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HHSA Committee approves contracts, senior needs increase and children in county custody skyrockets

September 26, 2019
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The Health, Human Services and Aging (HHSA) committee met on September 18. It was the first committee meeting in two months. The meeting featured several contracts for consideration, as well as two presentations.

 There is currently a list of approximately 75 seniors waiting for services.

The first contract for discussion was an amendment to the existing Options for Independent Living (Options) master contract through the Cuyahoga County Department of Senior and Adult Services (DSAS) that runs through the end of 2019. Options is an independent living program that serves the needs of county seniors through various services, including home-delivered meals, transportation and homemaking. Testifying on behalf of the Department of Health and Human Services was Paul Porter, who manages contracts for the county. Porter informed the committee that he was requesting two amendments to the existing Options contract. The contract amendment removes two vendors, the Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging and the Visiting Nurses Association. These two entities were involved in service delivery to county residents and discontinued their services offerings earlier this year. Therefore, residents who were enrolled in the Options program, were transferred to other agencies to serve their needs. Porter also made a request to the committee to add $609,026 to the contract. Porter testified that the number of individuals who requested Options, is outpacing agencies’ capacity. Therefore, there is currently a list of approximately 75 seniors waiting for services. Since the current annual allocation for Options has been exhausted, adding the additional $609,026 will allow agencies to continue providing services through the end of the year, as well as allow for DSAS to try and reduce the number of seniors on the waiting list. Porter added that the county administration expects to come back before the HHSA committee before the end of the year, in order to exercise a one-year program extension until the end of 2020. Committee members had a few questions, mainly focused on the two providers who dropped out, as well as which agency picked up those individuals who needed a new service provider. Porter said that the citizens who received services should not see any disruption of those services. Porter underscored that due to increased demand for several Options services in 2019 vs. 2018, that the program needed additional revenue before the end of the year. Tracey Mason, Administrator for the Department of Senior and Adults Services, testified that with the increase in demand, the agency continues to reduce the number of people on the Options waiting list. Currently, there are 75 people on the waiting list, and the agency will ask for additional resources in the upcoming county budget, in order to increase capacity for the Options program and reduce the chance a waiting list is needed in the near term. She did say, however, that as the program’s popularity continues to grow, and the number of seniors in Cuyahoga County continues to grow, there may always be a waiting list in one way, shape or form. Currently, the Options program has capacity for 1,200 clients. The agency will ask for additional dollars in the county budget, in order to increase enrollment capacity to 1,500 clients. The contract amendment was passed under second reading suspension.

 As of September 16, 2019, there were 2,863 children in county custody and 761 children were under protective supervision.

The second contract heard by the HHSA committee was from the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office. Representing the Division of Child and Family Services, Paul Porter appeared before the committee again to request a contract approval of $2,748,203 between the county executive and the county prosecutor’s office. One-third of the contract comes from federal funding and two-thirds from the county’s health and human services levy. The contract provides ongoing support for an existing unit in the prosecutor’s office which is dedicated to child protective services. The prosecutor’s office represents the county in instances of abuse, neglect or dependency where a child must be taken into custody or protective supervision. The number of children in county custody and in protective supervision has skyrocketed over the past few years. Protective supervision is different than county custody in that it means that county workers meet with children and their parent/guardian in their own home, to provide supportive services. According to Michelle Myers, who represented the county prosecutor’s office at the committee meeting, the number of children in county custody in January 2016 was 1,757 and 388 children received protective supervision. By July 2018, there were 2,406 children in custody and 706 under protective supervision. As of September 16, 2019, there were 2,863 children in county custody and 761 children were under protective supervision. In response to a question from Chairwoman Yvonne Conwell, Myers reported that in order to process the escalating number of cases, the county prosecutor’s office hired two additional assistant prosecuting attorneys. The county prosecutor will also ask for more money in the upcoming county budget, to hire six additional assistant prosecuting attorneys to better handle the caseload. The contract amendment was passed under second reading suspension. [bctt tweet="The INCREASE in the needs of @CuyahogaCounty seniors is straining the capacity of the agencies that serve them. How will the county address this?" username="CommunitySols"]

 Since 2010, the county contracted with the United Way of Greater Cleveland to serve as the fiscal agent for emergency food assistance through various food distribution agencies, including the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Foodbank.

The next contract considered was the renewal of a current annual contract with the United Way of Greater Cleveland. Since 2010, the county contracted with the United Way of Greater Cleveland to serve as the fiscal agent for emergency food assistance through various food distribution agencies, including the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland and the Greater Cleveland Foodbank. Julie Shaffer Wisniewski testified on behalf of the Cuyahoga County Division of Job and Family Services. Wisniewski testified that the $1,095,450 annual contract would begin on January 1, 2020 and would run until December 31, 2020. She explained to the committee that the Hunger Network distributes food based on demand for food assistance. She noted that the neighborhoods with the highest amount of food distribution are Detroit Shoreway, Old Brooklyn, Slavic Village and Union-Miles. For adults aged 60 and older, the places with the highest volume of distribution are Garden Valley, Lakewood and the Redeemer Crisis Center in Tremont. Wisniewski noted that this contract is not an increase. United Way has not asked for an increase in funding for the past seven years. Ben Miladin, Director of Health for the United Way of Greater Cleveland, testified in response to a question from Councilman Pernel Jones, stating that United Way did not ask for an increase, as it understood the county was trying to balance multiple fiscal issues at once. That being said, the need continues to rise. Jennifer Scofield, CEO of the Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland stated that they are seeing increased demand for emergency food assistance for residents of the inner-ring suburbs of Cleveland, especially on the east side. Jessica Morgan, representing the Greater Cleveland Foodbank, echoed Scofield’s comments, and added that the agency has seen an increase in both food and distribution costs. The contract was approved and passed to the full council for second reading, meaning it will go through three readings at the full county council.

 The county decided to extend the contract with Oriana House for one year, until the end of 2020.

The final contract was with Oriana House, Inc. for the operation of a one-stop re-entry resource center. Paul Porter, again representing the Department of Health and Human Services, testified on the contract extension. He started by saying that, currently, the resource center operates inside of Oriana House. The contract was set to expire at the end of this year. The county issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) and received three responses. Unfortunately, the county was not satisfied with the three proposals. The county decided to extend the contract with Oriana House for one year, until the end of 2020, and then issue another RFP next year. Porter did not go into detail on the services available at the center but testified solely on the contract amendment. Councilman Dale Miller asked if there was any dissatisfaction with the current provider, Porter said no. At this point, he was joined by Wisniewski at the podium, who clarified that the county decided to re-issue the RFP, because they were not able to find a respondent who could provide the services within the budget the county set. The contract was approved and passed to the full council for second reading.  

At the conclusion of the contract approvals, the committee heard presentations from Senior Transportation Connection, which provides senior transportation services for seniors in Cuyahoga County, as well as a presentation from The Metanoia Project, a grassroots organization that finds emergency shelter and services for homeless county residents in instance of extreme cold weather.  

At the conclusion of the presentations, the committee was adjourned.

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