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Employees looking for ‘some sort of stability’

Homemaker program transition is delayed

STERLING – With the state far behind in its payments, employees of a local program that serves the elderly feared they wouldn’t get paid.

So some of them reached out to a for-profit company, Chicago-based Help at Home Inc., about whether it could assume the program, said Ron Ford, the firm’s CEO.

“A large number of their employees contacted us,” Ford said. “They were looking for some sort of stability and certainty.”

It was no secret that the nonprofit Tri-County Opportunities Council’s homemaker program was struggling. Last month, it reported that the Illinois Department on Aging was behind by more than $1 million in payments.

“We spoke with Tri-County, and after we did, they felt that we were a good fit to continue the program,” Ford said.

Last Monday, the Tri-County board, which runs a number of programs, agreed to give up its homemaker service to Help at Home, which operates in a dozen states.

In a letter to employees dated last Tuesday, Tri-County and Help at Home said the change would take effect next Monday.

Late last week, however, the state delayed that changeover to April 21.

The homemaker program helps about 550 senior citizens in Whiteside, Lee, Ogle and Carroll counties with tasks such as getting groceries, going to the doctor and preparing meals. Such programs are designed to keep people out of nursing homes, a more expensive option for the elderly and taxpayers.

Over the next month, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, a nonprofit group, must visit with all of the elderly served by the Tri-County program. The group determines the needs of beneficiaries and identifies the services they’re eligible for.

The delay gives Lutheran time to get the job done.

“We have to get the paperwork in order. It can’t happen overnight,” said Emily Taylor, Lutheran’s assistant director of senior services. “We have to get them [elderly] transitioned in a short amount of time. We’ll make this transition as smooth as possible.”

A lot of rumors about the future of the local homemaker program have been flying around in recent days, Taylor said, but the agency couldn’t notify Tri-County clients about the change until it got official notification. That notification came from the state early Thursday night.

Tri-County is one of five organizations that provide homemaker services in the four-county area. Together, the five agencies serve a little more than a thousand people, with Tri-County handling the majority. With an office in Sterling, Help at Home is among the providers.

In Illinois, Help at Home takes care of 40 percent of the recipients of homemaker services, Ford said.

In the letter with Tri-County, Help at Home said it would hire employees at or above their current pay rates, give employees credit for their years of service, provide free health insurance to all employees working on average of 18 hours per week after the first 90 days of employment, and provide sick, vacation and holiday pay.

“We pay more than Tri-County for direct care workers. Most of Tri-County’s are at $9.90 [an hour]. I start them up at $10.05 and move them up on a union scale,” Ford said.

Help at Home has also suffered from the state’s delayed payments. The company is owed $80 million, Ford said.

But it can cushion that impact because its other states have no such problem. Indiana, for instance, pays weekly, Ford said.

The transition to Help at Home would happen gradually until April 21, he said.

“It’ll be like a dripping faucet,” he said.

Tri-County CEO Terri Lawrence, who provided information on the transition last week, couldn’t be reached for comment Monday.

For more information

Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, with offices in Sterling and Dixon, screens the elderly for homemaker services. They plan to visit with all of the beneficiaries of the Tri-County Opportunities Council’s homemaker program, which is being transferred to a for-profit company.

Call Lutheran Social Services at 815-626-7333 in Sterling and 815-288-6655 in Dixon for more information.

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