With HomeCare Services wrapping up operations at the end of the month after more than 50 years of bringing meals, housekeeping and transport services to Dallas County residents, temporary arrangements are now in place to keep the meals coming until new service providers ramp up their operations beginning Oct. 1.
Until the new contracts are signed, “everything’s still kind of up in the air,” said Carol Schmidt, director of nutrition services at Aging Resources of Central Iowa, the agency that administers federal and state nutrition funds in an eight-county region that includes Dallas County.
HomeCare Services announced its closure Aug, 1, and Aging Resources of Central Iowa published Aug. 6 a request for proposals (RFP) for new providers of nutrition services and in-home aid in Dallas County. Proposals are due by Sept. 5, with an Oct. 1 target for starting services.
“We have some different options,” Schmidt said, “and we’re working hard to make sure these people get meals, whether it’s at home or at the congregate sites. I’m confident that we’ll get some providers officially there Oct. 1.”
HomeCare Services served about 26,000 meals a year between its congregate and home-delivered programs. Meal providers during the September transition period are already at work. Taher Inc. started to deliver lunches Aug. 8 to the county’s three congregate-meal sites — in Adel, Perry and Waukee.
Minnetonka, Minn.-based Taher Inc. operates in 12 states and serves about 34 million meals annually, from school districts and universities to corporations and nursing homes. Taher Inc. serves school lunches in the Dallas Center-Grimes and Woodward-Granger community school districts, and they will continue to supply the county’s congregate meal sites until Aging Resources of Central Iowa signs a new contract with a permanent provider.
The number of home-delivered meals is much larger than the number served at the congregate sites. Twin Falls, Idaho-based Homestyle Direct is currently making the home-delivered meals, and the familiar HomeCare Services drivers are delivering them.
“The home-delivered clients are getting frozen meals three times a week from Homestyle Direct,” Schmidt said. “If need be, Homestyle Direct can shift those meals directly to the clients after Sept. 1. Currently, the HomeCare Services drivers are taking them to them three times a week, but this operation can also send them directly to the clients, a week’s worth or two weeks’ worth of meals at a time, so that might be an option.”
Schmidt said daily, face-to-face delivery is the goal of home delivery because it gives the drivers a chance to confirm the clients’ welfare.
“That’s a friendly face that checks in on them, which is a huge part of the home-delivered meal program,” Schmidt said. “So we want to go back to the home-delivered contact once a day. That’s ideal.”
For many years, the Dallas County Board of Supervisors has covered about half the cost of HomeCare Services’ social safety net in supporting the county’s low-income elderly, disabled and similarly vulnerable populations. In the 2019 fiscal year, the supervisors committed about $185,000 in tax dollars in the form of matching funds.
Schmidt said she hopes the county will continue to partner with Aging Resources of Central Iowa, including assisting in a smooth transition to new contract providers. Schmidt and Margaret De Sio, contracted services director for Aging Resources of Central Iowa, met with the supervisors Aug. 13 to discuss the transition and will meet again Aug. 27.
“We’re going to propose to the board of supervisors that we continue to keep the employees in place at Perry and at Sugar Creek in Waukee through the end of September and until we get a new provider,” Schmidt said.
Continuing in their roles through September will be Sandy Moore, coordinator of the congregate meals at the McCreary Community Building in Perry, and Karen Passig, coordinator of the Waukee congregate meals program at the Sugar Creek Aparments. The arrangements for Adel’s congregate meals are still in flux.
“We don’t have a venue in Adel and if it is in a new location, we don’t have a food license in that location,” Schmidt said. “So that might be a problem. I’m checking into that.”
Until the last few years, funding for HomeCare Services Inc. of Dallas County was fairly steady. Funding sources included sliding-scale client fees and annual funding from Dallas County, Iowa Department of Public Health, Aging Resources of Central Iowa, Heart of Iowa Regional Transit Agency (HIRTA) and Iowa Medicaid.
Like many other social service providers in Iowa, HomeCare Services was in part the victim of the disastrous privatization of Iowa’s Medicaid services that started in 2016. The non-profit agency went for months during 2017 and 2018 when the private managed care organizations (MCOs) — themselves revolving through the state like horses on a merry-go-round — delayed or denied payments for services.
In an Aug. 19 statement, the board of directors of HomeCare Services said the nonprofit agency had “previously been able to leverage private and public funding streams. As a result of significant program funding decisions at the state and local level, the resources needed to sustain HomeCare’s in-home and nutrition support services are no longer available moving forward.”
The board thanked their many volunteers and gratefully acknowledged the support of local philanthropic groups, such as the Bock Family Foundation and the Dallas County Foundation, but “unfortunately,” the statement said, “the agency no longer has access to the funding support needed to continue as a safety-net provider.”
Dallas County is no stranger to the loss of longtime care providers. Founded in 1869, the old Dallas County Poor Farm was first privatized in 1998 and later went bankrupt in 2014 after serving the county’s neediest population for 145 years. The Dallas County Public Health Nursing Services ceased nursing in 2017 after more than 50 years.
Aging Resources of Central Iowa noted there are several other options for home-delivered meals in the Dallas County area: