LAPORTE COUNTY | A narrowing 60-day extension on the life of the LaPorte County Council on Aging has local health leaders concerned about the fate of the sick and elderly who rely on the agency.
"Many of the elderly and disabled do not have assistance," said Jill Nygren, vice president of service line excellence at Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Michigan City.
The agency often is tapped to shuttle people to physician appointments, to dialysis, to radiation therapy and even to grocery stores, Nygren said.
"Those are much-needed services," she said. "The community cried out when they said they were closing their doors."
Carl Scott, executive director of Parents and Friends Inc., which merged with the Council on Aging in 2000, distributed a letter stating the council would stop operating Feb. 7.
But, an agreement was struck a week later to restore full transportation and guardian services and to call back workers who were terminated or about to be let go. The agreement is essentially a 60-day extension, Scott said.
When Parents and Friends merged with the council, it was known to be a break-even proposition at best, Scott said.
"Most of it was being paid through our other programs," he said. "The fact is that, at this point, there are no reserves from Parents and Friends that can continue to support it."
Parents and Friends also operates community living and a group home, which were financially successful enough to also support the Council on Aging, he said.
Dr. Jim Callaghan, president of Franciscan St. Anthony Health hospital in Michigan City, said he is encouraged by the LaPorte County Board of Commissioners taking the lead on finding a solution.
A number of local health care providers are participating in meetings to address the issue, Nygren said.
If the 60-day window closes without a solution, it could be dangerous for people forced to miss medical appointments.
"That can be life-threatening at that point," Nygren said.
There are alternative transportation systems, but not many are affordable for people who live on fixed incomes, she said.
Scott is optimistic a solution will be found.
"I think, because of how critical it is and how many stakeholders would also suffer if their clients can't get to their offices, I think there will be a solution," he said. "I think the only solution is that stakeholders take pieces of it."
The Michigan City hospital gives money to the agency every month, Callaghan said.
"We would hope that the other members of the community organizations continue to step forward to help provide that service," he said.
The agency also offers a guardianship program to assist people who cannot make decisions for themselves.
"Their services are invaluable to us," Nygren said.