Senior Center specialist will oversee referrals

A senior center referral specialist, whose services will be available on site once a week, will cost Ashland Parks and Recreation more than $58 an hour for a six-month contract totaling just over $12,500.

The referral specialist, Katie Merola, is on staff at the Rogue Valley Council of Government, in the Senior & Disability Services Department.

Ashland Parks agreed in December for Merola to be at the Ashland Senior Center once a week for $58.66 per hour. That includes the specialist’s hourly rate of $22.20, benefits at $15.62 an hour and other fees such as legal, liability and human resources for RVCOG at $20.84 an hour. Morela also will receive compensation of $373 for commuting between Central Point and Ashland.

The decision came after the Parks Commission laid off the former Senior Center manager in August.

“For what we need right now, it is what it is,” Parks Director Michael Black said. “For now, it seems like a lot, but with the quick turnover and on the short-term notice, (RVCOG) has what we need.”

The contract for weekly service between Dec. 20 and June 13, translates to 26 working days at a cost of $12,201, plus the commuting compensation.

According to the contract, Merola will refer seniors via phone calls or in person to programs they need, make follow-up calls, and keep track of information on seniors and the services they need.

The contract does not address specific outreach duties — a concern that was brought up multiple times by both seniors and the ad hoc committee Chairwoman Jackie Bachman.

Black said the senior center doesn’t have any system or database regarding previous outreach efforts. He said a part-time employee had been dedicated to the outreach efforts.

“As far as I know, we don’t have any type of database of super seniors that were called regularly to be checked on,” Black said. “Staff might have some insight, but there’s no database.”

By having a specialist, Black said, the senior center will be able to better monitor its outreach efforts.

Members of Ashland Support Our Seniors — a group formed following the commission’s decision to lay off the former Senior Center manager in August — criticized the hire after obtaining a copy of the contract.

“... In view of what was already in place before Black’s ‘recommendations,’ it is a serious step backwards for Ashland,” member Susanne Severeid wrote in an email. “Now the senior program is not only less effective, it is less cost-efficient.”

Parks and Recreation is using the Senior Center’s personnel budget to pay for the specialist, Black said. The layoff of the manager and staff resignations that followed reduced payroll costs.

— Reach reporter Tran Nguyen at 541-776-4485 or Follow her on twitter @nguyenntrann.

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