La. elderly office needs leadership
(AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal’s decision not to replace the fired head of his Office of Elderly Affairs for nearly three years has lessened the effectiveness of the agency’s mission to help the elderly, according to an audit released Monday.
Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office said the agency’s formula for sending state and federal money to local councils on aging doesn’t determine where needs are greatest. The audit said the office doesn’t consistently track the services it funds, and the shortfall could become more acute as the elderly population grows and the need for services intensifies.
The Office of Elderly Affairs works with local senior centers, community service organizations and volunteer programs to provide assistance with meals, transportation, counseling and personal care for senior citizens.
“Having stronger and more consistent oversight and strategically using data to evaluate and manage would help (the agency) ensure that effective and relevant services are delivered to the increasing number of elderly in Louisiana,” the audit says.
The Jindal administration defended its formula, saying it was approved by federal officials and didn’t need tweaking. Karen Ryder, deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Elderly Affairs, said in a written response to the audit that the agency will work more closely with local organizations to monitor spending.
In 2012, Jindal fired the office’s executive director, Martha Manuel, a day after she told lawmakers that the governor’s plan to merge the Office of Elderly Affairs into the state health department would damage services for Louisiana’s senior citizens. Lawmakers later refused to allow the move. Jindal never named another executive director to lead the agency.
“This lack of leadership contributes to the agency’s inability to fulfill its mission as a visible advocate for the elderly and results in the aging network not having a voice in policy and budget discussions,” Purpera’s office said.
Jindal spokeswoman Shannon Bates said state law requires a governor to pick an executive director from those nominated by the Louisiana Executive Board on Aging. She said the only person recommended by the board since 2012 was the subject of ethics complaints.
“We are ready to work with them once they send us another candidate,” Bates said in a statement.
The audit also said while the agency collects data on services and the demographics of its recipients, the information is used mainly to comply with federal reporting requirements. Auditors said that data could be used to better steer aid to areas of need, in rural communities where elderly residents are harder to reach and to low-income minority populations.
Louisiana’s Office of Elderly Affairs gives a base allocation of $12,000 to each parish, then uses a formula to distribute the rest of the money. The formula considers the number of elderly people, the parish size and poverty levels.
Purpera’s office said other states use extra factors like the prevalence of minorities, the number of people with disabilities and the type of area, whether rural or urban.
While the Jindal administration agreed to more closely train councils on aging and volunteer programs on data collection, it didn’t agree to revise its formula.
Ryder said the current formula “allows for targeting funding areas with the greatest needs and allows for equitable funding as necessary to the small rural parishes as well as the large urban parishes.”
The audit is available at: http://bit.ly/1HDidsS