Q&A with Dusty Baker, director of the Cullman County Commission on Aging

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CULLMAN – Tribune reporter Andrew Cryer caught up with Cullman County Commission on Aging Director, Dusty Baker, to get an update on the commission's activities.

What's some background on the Commission of Aging that's not available on your website? 

The Commission on Aging was started in 1977 by then Commission Chairman Randall Shedd on a campaign promise. Mary Henry was hired to develop it as the first Director and the COA has grown from her not even having a desk to having seven full-time centers across the county and become one of the most renowned senior service organizations in our state.

How long have you been the director? 

I was hired on Jan. 6, 2015 after going through a few interviews including a public interview, and started the day I was approved by the commission. I am passionate about my job and love the people I work with. You find true joy when you’re able to serve others and this has been a fantastic opportunity.

Will there be anything new in 2017?

We have several things in the works but one thing that we are excited about is the addition of a new senior center in Fairview that will be completed this year and a new joint facility in Crane Hill is scheduled to begin construction. That facility will be shared with the Sheriff’s Office as a senior center / Sheriff’s Annex. We are always looking for ways to improve our services and learn; it just depends on how much time it takes to do the research and get the ball rolling to get projects done.

What programs will be going on for seniors?

Vegetable vouchers from the state farmers’ market. Seniors can call the COA and we will fill out an application for the senior to receive $30 worth of vouchers that can be used at local farmers’ markets for fresh vegetables. This just started Jan. 1 and will last through possibly May.

Has funding been increasing as the population ages? 

Well, it depends on where the funding is coming from. Our local funding has remained consistent as our county officials and leaders are committed to their continued support for our seniors. Our state funding however, has decreased. This is a bit surprising given that federal funding to the state actually increased for Title III services of the Older American Act for 2016.

What issues have/are rising for seniors in Cullman County? 

Healthcare cost is the biggest issue.  We are always looking for ways to fill the gaps and that’s where our SenioRx and our Medicare Part D counseling come in. During Medicare Part D open enrollment period (Oct. 15 – Dec. 7) we saved seniors over $820,000 on their prescription medication coverage plus an additional $758,330 through our SenioRx program resulting in more than $1.5 million in savings for our seniors. It’s also really hard to find respite care for those that need it but can’t afford it. We act as a referral for other agencies that offer this type of care or assistance.

What daily programs do you offer for seniors?          

The COA acts as a bridge for many services that are offered by other organizations so we may connect our clients with the service that benefits them the most. In house, however, we have many programs that go a long way to benefit our seniors. Our meals-on-wheels program makes sure that seniors who are homebound (in other words, can’t drive) have adequate nutrition. This serves a dual purpose as it also lets us perform daily assurance checks that lets family and the COA that they are doing ok.

Through our seven full-time centers we serve free meals five days per week. We also take advantage of state-offered programs like the vegetable vouchers program where seniors can sign up to receive these vouchers to spend at the local farmers’ market.  Our SenioRx program assists seniors that are on medication by working with pharmaceutical companies to offer medication to our seniors prescribed by a doctor at a free or reduced cost. We also do Medicare Plan comparisons on a non-biased basis to make sure seniors have the best information available to get into the best plan for them. Each full-time center also offers daily activities such as bingo and card games.

Below are the savings numbers associated with Medicare open enrollment period and our SenioRx programs. The total savings is contributed to what we were able to save the seniors of Cullman County on their Medicare Plan and prescription medications. These savings put money directly back in the pockets of those living on a fixed income enabling them to have a better quality of life. We have also recently partnered with Community Action to relaunch the Foster Grandparents and Senior Companion programs for Cullman County.

  • Medicare OE  $820,000
  • SenioRx          $758,330
  • Total Savings   $1,578,330 

Find out more at http://www.cullmancoa.com.

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