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Nonprofit group gives up program

Business takes over homemaker service

STERLING – A nonprofit program that serves the elderly in the Sauk Valley will be transferred to a business.

Tri-County Opportunities Council runs the homemaker program in Whiteside, Lee, Ogle and Carroll counties. This week, the group’s board voted to discontinue the homemaker program because the state is so far behind in its payments.

On April 1, Chicago-based Help at Home Inc. will assume the program, Tri-County CEO Terri Lawrence said.

Last month, Tri-County reported that the state Department of Aging was behind by more than $1 million in payments. The group feared it might be unable to pay employees.

“The state owes us a bunch of money,” Lawrence said. “We are maxed out on our line of credit.”

Tri-County is trying to ensure a smooth transition so there is as little disruption as possible to its clients.

The homemaker program helps about 560 senior citizens in the four counties with tasks such as getting groceries, going to the doctor, and preparing meals. The program has 150 full- and part-time employees.

Tri-County employees may transfer to the new company, which is unionized, for the same pay or more, Lawrence said. Help at Home offers health insurance to workers, she said.

Help at Home, with its sister company, Oxford HealthCare, has offices in 11 states.

“They just don’t work in Illinois,” Lawrence said. “The other states pay on time. They have the cash flow to do this.”

Contacted Thursday, a Help at Hand spokewoman, who declined to give her name, said the Department of Aging had decided on the transfer, which also is happening in other areas.

“We were told this is how it will be,” the spokeswoman said. “We don’t have a choice.”

A Department of Aging spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the situation.

Rock Falls resident Sue Day, whose mother is served by Tri-County, said she was concerned that clients and their families hadn’t received enough notification about what’s going on.

“There are people who don’t have a backup plan,” she said. “I have things in place for my mother if we don’t have this service. Other clients don’t, and they may end up in a nursing home. And that won’t be cheaper for the state, and it won’t be better for the client. People do better in their homes.”

Tri-County operates a number of programs, including Foster Grandparents, Head Start, Low-Income Energy Assistance, and Family and Community Development.

Help at Hand already has an office in Sterling to provide homemaker services.

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