by Kate Evans
As another summer begins, the Senior Life Services of Morgan County Senior Center in Berkeley Springs is facing their third summer without consistent air conditioning. The center is in the former U.S. Silica corporate headquarters north of Berkeley Springs.
The senior center’s dining area was incredibly hot on a recent Thursday as 15 senior citizens ate, played cards and did puzzles and crafts during lunchtime. Hallways and offices were hot and uncomfortable, too. Outreach coordinator/nurse Terri Bliziotes said on good days 60 people come to the center for lunch.
Acting Executive Director Tammy Kees, who is also their payroll manager and accountant, said that the air conditioning has been out in the entire building since last summer.
Parts for the air conditioning units have been ordered.
The air conditioning was repaired two years in a row. There are five different air conditioning units that service the whole building-two are big units. Kees said that they would get repairs done on the units and then something else would break.
The agency currently has a proposal from Johnson Control’s Hagerstown office for replacing four different air conditioning parts for $23,000. It won’t cover labor or freon or other problems that would arise, Kees said. The largest ordered equipment piece is in and they’re waiting for the other parts to arrive.
Members of the board of directors on June 6 asked the Morgan County Commission to give the nonprofit some financial help to pay for repairs to the air conditioning equipment. County officials agreed to give the Senior Center $30,000 toward the repairs.
Kees said while the air conditioning is out, center staff has tried to get seniors to move into the dance room, which has a separate air conditioning unit that’s working. Many stay in the dining room despite the heat and play cards.
Kees said staff is also miserable in the heat. She’s brought in four personal fans from home to try to keep her office area more bearable. Staff provides fresh fruit-flavored water, ice cream and popsicles for hydration. Indoor temperatures get a little cooler around 2 p.m.
One staff person said “It’s terrible; I can’t stand it” when asked about the heat. The person requested that the air conditioning be fixed right away.
Kees couldn’t say how soon the air conditioning will be fixed. That depends on when parts come in and the board signs off on the work.
Local musician Ryland Swain said she’s performed several times at an open mike session at the senior center as a volunteer. Swaim said it was so hot on May 26 that she could hardly play her guitar and sing. There were a few fans running but they didn’t help much. Other musicians also complained about the heat.
Swaim said it’s a nice facility but she wasn’t sure she’d return to play music if there wasn’t air conditioning. Swaim was concerned about the heat affecting other seniors that use the facility.
Volunteer Wanda Woods teaches crochet and helps out when she can with other crafts projects. She noted that there are people at the senior center with medical conditions and they’re not coming or come for just a short time because of the heat. Woods is on portable oxygen.
Woods said that the senior center aides are outstanding. They work hard and are very supportive. They couldn’t ask for better drivers and the office staff has always been a delight. The kitchen crew works hard and makes great meals. She said that other senior centers she’s attended in Winchester, Gaithersburg and Silver Springs have more community support.
Senior center attendee Glory Houck said seniors are cutting their hours at the center. An hour or so is about all they can tolerate of the heat.
Vivian Graham has attended around six to eight events at the senior center. Graham, who broke her arm, got carryout meals from the center and was disappointed that the food wasn’t as advertised. She uses the senior center shuttle to get to her doctor’s appointments.
Graham, who’s going to be 87, said the senior center is a good program that people use. She felt more people would use the center if conditions were different.
Glorious Sagle attends events there once in a while and stopped by to get Graham’s food. She said it was hot inside but was concerned about the doors being wide open without screens because of food preparation. Sagle was concerned about the elderly being in the heat and thought the agency needed help from the community.
Sagle said that some staff is doing the jobs of several people and they can’t work and raise money, too.
Septic system problems
Senior Life Services is also dealing with having to pump out its septic system tank once a week-twice a week when it rains a lot- because of a crumbled drain field pipe. It costs $250 each time to pump it, Kees said. The perc test has been done and the fire marshal has been there regarding occupancy.
They’re meeting with the town’s public service district to see if the building can be tied into their sewage system, Kees said. They would need to hire excavators to put in a new septic drain field and also have an engineer work with them for a public service district sewage tie-in.
Board vice-chair Brenda Hutchinson has been working with Kees to get the air conditioning and septic system issues resolved after former Executive Director Joel Tuttle resigned May 1. Senior citizens can’t take the heat especially if they have medical conditions, she noted.
Kees and Hutchinson said the agency is holding off on hiring another executive director until sometime this fall to help save money. Senior Life Services average electricity bill for the building is $8,000 a month, said Kees.
Kees noted that Senior Life Services of Morgan County is a 501c3 non-profit organization and is not county-operated. Their agency doesn’t receive funding from the County Commission. The agency was previously housed in the county’s Community Services Building before it purchased the U.S. Silica building through a 30-year United States Department of Agriculture loan. They moved to their new location in early 2013.
Senior Life Services also operates the Paw Paw Senior Center which is located in the Mountaineer Community Health Center building.
Senior Life Services gets funding from federal and state grants and bills Medicaid for the in-home care and transportation it provides, Kees said. They also provide fee-for-service in-home care and transportation. The agency rents space to U.S. Silica, the WIC program, Audibel and several private individuals through lease agreements. Kees said the agency doesn’t make a profit from the rental income. The money just helps pay their utilities on the building.
The agency has over 85 employees and many volunteers that teach classes, do programs and activities and deliver meals. Its board of directors are unpaid volunteers and meet monthly, she said. Board meetings are open to the public and their next regular meeting is today, Wednesday, June 13 at noon at the Paw Paw Senior Center.
Kees said that most senior centers in West Virginia aren’t serving meals because they take a loss from offering meals, but Senior Life Services believes the meal program is important to provide to the public.
“For many seniors we’re the only family that they have. It’s important that we get this building fixed,” Kees said.
Hutchinson said that Senior Life Services serves an important function in the community. She asked for the public’s continued support.