By Ed Runyan
About 100 senior citizens filled the Trumbull County commissioners meeting room Wednesday, asking the commissioners to do everything possible to keep SCOPE Inc. in business.
Some referred to the gathering as a demonstration, but most who spoke didn’t come to the defense of SCOPE as much as stress the good work SCOPE has done.
SCOPE, a nonprofit corporation that provides services to senior citizens, has been in turmoil since April 13. The Ohio Department of Aging had cited the agency for not securing background checks for at least 22 employees who provided direct care to clients and violating other Ohio laws and rules. Officials also have said, however, that most of what SCOPE did wrong was fail to respond to state findings dating back several months.
SCOPE’s longtime executive director, Janet Schweitzer, resigned April 14, and the county commissioners said the following week that violations might make it impossible for the county to continue to give SCOPE funds from the countywide senior-citizens levy.
The county has since decided that it will honor its contract with SCOPE through June 30, but that SCOPE most likely will need to focus its efforts on its six senior centers over the next year — since SCOPE’s funding for in-home care is being cut off.
State and federal funding for the PASSPORT and Title III programs that paid SCOPE $468,985 in 2011 were suspended several weeks ago.
The county will not allow SCOPE to bid on in-home services in the next funding cycle that paid SCOPE $175,200 in 2011, said Diane Drawl, an accountant hired by the commissioners to oversee levy funding.
SCOPE will be allowed to bid on funding for the senior centers in the next round of funding, Drawl said. SCOPE was awarded up to $457,525 to operate the community centers under its current contract.
SCOPE “will have to make cuts,” Drawl said. “It probably means SCOPE will have to become centers-only until next year.”
Senior citizen Casey Clutter of Southington cited statistics indicating that the senior-citizen population will continue to grow, so the need for services SCOPE provides also will grow.
She listed the dinners, prescription assistance, music, lawn mowing, snow plowing, billiard league, card games and social support that seniors get from SCOPE as reasons why services need to continue.
After Drawl explained the changes SCOPE would have to make in the coming months, John Vogel, a former SCOPE consultant, said the process sounded like “a recipe for bankruptcy.”
He added that SCOPE understands that it needs to correct some of its problems, “but in the meantime, there are quality-of-life issues,” that will affect senior citizens.
Joe Bedich, co-manager of the Howland SCOPE center, said he believes SCOPE’S levy funding needs to be paid differently so that SCOPE’s fixed costs, such as administration or utilities, can be paid “up front,” instead of having to bill the county for services rendered and get reimbursed.
Many of the seniors attending expressed frustration with SCOPE’s management, however, especially regarding its habit of keeping its finances and meetings private.
“Why are SCOPE’s meetings closed off to the public?” Eva Carpenter of Warren asked, adding that if SCOPE receives lots of public money, it should be required to open its books to the public and answer the public’s questions.
Bill Danso, an assistant county prosecutor, said the county commissioners already have access to SCOPE financial information, but he will have to do some research to determine whether the public can be given that same access.
Keith Klingeman of Liberty said it might be time “to get rid of the board of directors.”
Commissioner Frank Fuda said the commissioners have no control over how SCOPE operates or who serves on its board. Commissioner Dan Polivka added that the commissioners publicly stated in recent months that the SCOPE board should have been more open to the public.