LAPORTE | A halt has been put on plans to stop medical transportation services for most of the elderly and disabled clients of the LaPorte County Council on Aging.
An agreement was struck late Friday afternoon to restore full transportation and guardian services and call back all workers terminated or about to be let go for 60 days.
During that time period, the parties involved in the agreement along with all stakeholders will work together to figure out how to continue delivering long term the services now provided by the Council on Aging.
County attorney Shaw Friedman said there might be another service provider willing to take over the Council on Aging or it may function on its own.
Since 2000, the Council on Aging has been overseen by Parents and Friends Inc., a nonprofit organization in LaPorte that provides a variety of services like housing to the physically and mentally handicapped.
As part of the agreement, an independent certified public accountant will perform a review of the certified audits of the organization's financial records over the past three years.
Seventeen drivers were terminated last week and seven more employees, including the director of the guardianship program, were scheduled to be let go at the end of their shifts Friday.
According to Parents and Friends officials, the Council on Aging was losing about a $500,000 a year, but they didn't know it until recently when the financial ledgers were found to be inaccurate.
The discovery of red ink was made by the third chief financial officer the organization has had the past year or two.
Closing the Council on Aging then was ordered by Parents and Friends to avoid being unable to meet payroll for the remaining 130 employees of Parents and Friend and to preserve its services that have been provided long before it took over the Council on Aging.
After the closing was revealed, Parents and Friends officials said transportation still would be provided but only to the clients with the most critical medical needs and that the guardianship program also would keep going.
The agreement was reached after the commissioners early Friday afternoon voted to seek a restraining order for the court to restore full service temporarily while a solution to keep the Council on Aging in full operation permanently was found.
The LaPorte County prosecutor's office is providing $50,000 from one of its accounts to pay for the independent audit and supplement the Council on Aging operation for the 60-day period.
LaPorte County Commissioner Dr. Vidya Kora said the transportation services are a life or death matter for many of the clients.
"They are the most vulnerable group of people in our county and most don't have rides, so it's important that their interests are protected," Kora said.
If only select clients were chosen to still receive transportation, Kora feared some clients whose needs are critical would have been overlooked especially with the Council on Aging falling into turmoil.
"There has to be an infrastructure to determine who is in critical need and right now with most everybody being terminated there's nobody there to even determine who is in need and who is not," Kora said.
Commissioner Dave Decker said many clients with children and other family members living too far away have no other way to get to the doctor.
Some things like keeping open the Council on Aging take priority over the typical dollars and cents issue, he said.
"I don't know where the people's compassion is anymore. We shouldn't be placing their lives at risk," Decker said. "We need this service, and we've got to find a way to keep it."