The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

December 18, 2012

Center of attention: Seniors critical of plan to close facility

NANTY GLO — The Cambria County commissioners Tuesday learned first-hand that regular attendees of the Nanty Glo Senior Center do not want to lose the place they’ve come to depend on for a social outlet and a noon meal.

But the commissioners left the often boisterous and confrontational hourlong meeting with little apparent change of heart.

“There are a couple of things – I’m going back and ask some questions,” Commissioner Doug Lengenfelder said.

He wants once again to see the figures on the cost of the center and the number of meals it serves, but it appeared likely that when the county leaders vote Friday, it will be a 2-to-1 majority to close the center.

Indications last week were that Lengenfelder and Commissioner Mark Wissinger supported the closure while Tom Chernisky is opposed.

The center, one of nine in Cambria County, likely will close as early as the end of the year because of cuts in federal and state subsidies and a looming deficit in years to come if senior-related costs are not reduced.

Nanty Glo was targeted after a year- long analysis largely because of declining participation and operating costs, which are higher than many other centers, Lengenfelder.

Chernisky did not speak publicly to the 50 people at the center, but later said he supports cost-cutting efforts at all of the centers such as reduced hours or reduced personnel costs over closing Nanty Glo.

Also playing a role in the likely decision to close the facility is its proximity to others in the region, with the Jackson Township site 5.5 miles from Nanty Glo and Ebensburg 7.5 miles.

People, even seniors, are much more mobile, and if they can get to the Nanty Glo site then perhaps they will consider going to one of the others close by, Lengenfelder said.

As for cost of the site operations, Nanty Glo is one of few that is not housed in a county-owned property, and rent for the site runs $700 a month, the highest of the nine, Lengenfelter said.

He asked the seniors to look to other counties where centers are being closed, including Blair, where  nine have been reduced to six and likely will go to four. Allegheny County has closed 20 of its sites, he said.

“We have to determine what is best for everyone in the county,” he said. “How best do we meet the needs of the seniors.”

Talking before the commissioners arrived, seniors including Valery Marana, Stella Cherry, Joseph Gresko and Jim Shandor said the center is the focus of their lives and often is the reason for getting up and getting out each day.

For each, unable to cook much on their own, the noon meal is usually the only hot food they get, even if it is a hot bowl of soup, and the evening meal is snacks or leftovers they get from the center.

But food is just a secondary reason for coming, said Cherry, 77.

“I love it. I love it here. We always have a good time,” she said.

Marana, 64, who loves the Tuesday bingo games, said she still holds out hope that the center will remain open.

“We would like them to change their minds,” she said.

The response during the session with the commissioners was lively, with seniors at times shouting over Lengenfelder, forcing him to pause until they were finished.

Many expressed anger when M. Veil Griffith, administrator of the Cambria County Area Agency on Aging, attempted to speak and suggested pay cuts be made for county administration if dollars must be trimmed.

They shouted down one senior who lives in the assisted housing unit at the center.

Dan Dusza , 69, who does not eat meals at the center, said he is tired of the malicious gossip and negative talk he overhears. He also has safety concerns because the door is open much of the day to allow seniors into the center.

On average 25 to 30 seniors eat at the center, which is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Lengenfelder said the commissioners are not considering closing any other sites.

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