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Refueling Meals on Wheels

IOWA CITY– Managed Medicaid is forcing local Meals on Wheels programs to live hand-to-mouth.
Elder Services, Inc., which operates Meals on Wheels in Johnson, Washington, Iowa and Cedar counties, began its ‘Refueling Meals on Wheels Campaign’ Sept. 7.
This campaign is focused on ensuring the viability of the Meals on Wheels program with a goal of raising $250,000.
When asked about the impetus behind the campaign Elder Services Executive Director Devon Inman stated, “In the past we’ve relied on large, social organizations and municipalities to fill in the gaps between Older American’s Act (OAA) funding and the actual cost of meals, but that model is no longer sustainable. We have to make a direct appeal to the community.”
Elder Services, Inc. receives reimbursement through the OAA, which does not cover the entire cost of the food, preparation and delivery of Meals on Wheels. Elder Services, Inc. provides approximately 9,000 meals per month to all of its sites. For each one of those 9,000 meals, there is a $2.50 shortfall in funding that Elder Services has to absorb, according to Inman.
Elder Services, like many other agencies, is caught in the middle.
“Case Managers are being overloaded, receiving multiple instructions from each managed care organization (MCO), it’s difficult for them to keep up,” Inman explained. “Often times, case managers are not informed when someone no longer qualifies for Medicaid, or if they have switched MCOs. So the claims are denied with no reason given, leaving both the client and case manager not knowing why. It can take up to a couple months after a meal is delivered to find out it may never be paid. The changing landscape of funding mechanisms for Meal on Wheels has unfortunately led Elder Services to a place where more local, individual and corporate support is necessary to be able to provide meals to senior citizens in the area who rely on Meal on Wheels.”
Sept. 7 was chosen as the date to kick off the initiative and Iowa City Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon cutting at the Elder Services’ relocated smaller office at 1486 S. 1st Ave., Iowa City.
“This ribbon cutting for the relocation of the office is a reflection of our current situation and one of the operational efficiencies Elder Services has implemented,” said Elder Services Treasurer Gerry Kuhl of North Liberty.
“For several years some of our meals have been served to some of our elderly population at a loss, meaning the cost of production exceeds the revenue received,” Kuhl said. “Elder Services has been able to supplement that cost with local grants. However, those grants during the past few years have generally reduced or remained stable while the Meals program has grown. At this time Elder Services does not have any cash reserves. We are living hand-to-mouth.”
Since the implementation of managed Medicaid, Kuhl said, Elder Services accounts receivable have nearly tripled.
“We do not know when payments will arrive, and every day is a balancing act,” Kuhl said. “We are waiting for decisions about some clients since May. We are late in paying vendors, and in danger of being put on “cash only” for our food vendors.”
The Elder Services board feels there is a moral obligation to feed needy seniors and do a wellness check when the meal is delivered, Kuhl said.
“So we ask the community to generously support the Refueling Meals on Wheels Campaign,” he said. “With managed Medicare, the environment in which we operated has changed dramatically since April.”
Kuhl presented a personal contribution on behalf of he and his wife.
Contributions to Elder Services Meal on Wheels program can be sent to 1486 S. 1st Ave., Suite B, Iowa City, IA 52240. Online donations are available at www.elderservicesinc.com.