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Human Services offers preview of fund requests

LITTLE VALLEY -- Cattaraugus County's departments will bring preliminary 2010 funding requests to the county administrator's team beginning in mid-October, but several departments in the human services arena provided a preview during an unscheduled committee meeting following Wednesday's session of the Legislature.

A few additional staff members are recommended in 2010 to meet the need for health care, counseling and assistance services. The Health Department will soon ask to fill one vacant full-time home care nurse position, and requests will also be fielded for one new nursing position and the expansion to full-time for a half-time nurse, now stationed in the Department of Social Services.

Public Health Director Barb Hastings, who will retire from her seven-year post at the end of this week, warned that the state may fine the county and close down the county's home care division if improvements are not seen in several areas that were found to be deficient in a recent random survey.

Hastings has told lawmakers in the past that the department is understaffed in programs that could bring additional revenue. The state survey showed some improvements, but uncovered weaknesses in five areas, including information technology (IT) support that slowed nursing response times.

Nursing Division Director Sue Andrews presented statistics showing the 27,930 skilled nursing visits counted in 2008 dropped from previous years due to a lack of nurses.

"I do have a concern that some patients are not receiving care," said Andrews, describing fewer nursing visits due to a technology problem and the need to ration visits when staffing is limited.

On the other hand, Andrews said the department does not screen patients as is done by private nursing agencies and she pointed to compliments received from the region's hospitals on the speed of nursing responses in home visits, with good ratings for patient outcomes. She added that the home care continues to realize a profit.

Hastings told the Human Services Committee members that the daily census of 370 home care patients is like "three Olean General Hospitals -- it's a huge Home Care Department."

Dawn Miller, director of the Department of Community Services, said she hopes to seek funding for four part-time peer counseling subcontractors as part of an outpatient clinic restructuring.

And it was not immediately clear how staffing pressure will affect the Department of Social Services, already feeling demands of an increased caseload.

"We are seeing the impacts of the recession," said Social Services Commissioner Wendy Bourgeois.

Bourgeois said extended unemployment benefits are beginning to run out, with 900 new food stamp cases and 800 new Medicaid clients on file since January 2008. The department's caseload totaled 8,913 in August, for a total of 13,492 people. She also pointed to her department's new focus on homelessness that she traces back to prison releases of sex offenders and the end of Rockefeller drug laws.

"We do not have affordable adequate housing available for these," she said.

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