Program that guides elderly through mazes said threatened by House budget cuts

LACONIA — "Food and music is what we need for our Fred. He loves music and has a wonderful voice," remarked Phyllis Mecheski, who cares for her partner, Fred Davidson, around the clock. "I keep him at home and I keep the home."

Mecheski, who worked at the Laconia Senior Center for seven years, said that despite her experience she would be challenged to cope but for help she has received through ServiceLink. For the past 15 years Service Link has provided senior citizens as well as adults with disabilities and chronic illness with the information, referrals and assistance to navigate the health care and social service systems and secure the services enabling them to remain in their homes.

But, the budget adopted last week by the New Hampshire House of Representatives has cast a shadow over the future of ServiceLink. The House stripped the $1,336,000 the state contributes to operate the program from the 2016-2017 budget, without which $1,907,000 in federal funding would be foregone, scuttling the program altogether.

Janet Hunt, executive director of ServiceLink for Belknap and Carroll counties, said that her team of seven fielded nearly 6,000 calls for assistance in 2014.

During the next 15 years the number of those older than 65 are projected to increase to more than a third of the population in Belknap County and to nearly half the population of Carroll County. Lisa Morris of the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health, Inc., which counts ServiceLink among its partners, stressed that the program enables a significant share of the aged population to live at home, sparing the high cost of nursing home care — currently about $230 per day — primarily funded by Medicaid.

"ServiceLink is a treasure trove of information," Mecheski said. "The maze you have to go through in the health care system is very challenging. They help you reach the right person and fill out the application forms, which can be hard even for a person who is educated." At the same time, she noted that caring for an infirm adult and maintaining a household "takes so much out of you that you need help." Through ServiceLink she said she was able to secure help with care and chores, which gives her "a chance to relax and do the paperwork. I have a sense of relief when they're there," she added.

Boyuan Fang, who retired after working as a custodian at LRGHealthcare, confessed he struggled with English as a second language. "I'm Chinese," he said, "but with ServiceLink it I can talk to them in person. They are helpful and so patient," he laughed. "they don't want me to do anything. They do everything for me." He said that when his wife, Chongjie Guo, required medical care and he was billed $200,000, the staff at ServiceLink spared the couple financial ruin.

When Gerald Kinight's wife was stricken with Crohn's disease and required round-the-clock care, he said that he was unaware of ServiceLink. "I was overwhelmed, at my wit's end," he recalled. Then he contacted the New Hampshire Family Caregivers Program that funded three hours of respite care each week. "It was truly a godsend for me," he said. "I had time to do the grocery shopping and pay the bills."

Ken Young, who encountered ServiceLink when he and wife became overwhelmed caring for her mother, and Bob Franks both volunteered for the Meals on Wheels program in the Lakes Region. They said that in the course of delivering meals to senior citizens living at home, often by themselves, they frequently came across people in need of assistance. "ServiceLink is the solution," Young said.

Franks admitted that while the younger generation can tackle its problems through the Internet, "we want to talk to somebody and the only people you can talk to is ServiceLink. Take all the problems everywhere I went with Meals on Wheels, people in dire need of help," he continued. "Call ServiceLink! How can you beat that? It didn't cost them a dime." He said that the program speaks directly to the issues and facing individuals. "It's the answer to the problems of seniors," he remarked.

Morris explained that ServiceLink emerged from a series of conversations throughout the state about the challenges facing older adults, at which the vast majority highlighted the difficulty of navigating the health care and social service systems. At the same time, there was mounting concern at the high cost of long-term care and growing preference for supporting the elderly in the least restrictive and expensive environment — their homes.ServiceLink was established as a kind of brokerage to enable seniors to draw on the services they required to maintain optimal Independence.

With number of seniors rising more rapidly now than 15 years ago, Morris said that ServiceLink is more necessary today than it was then.

Merger of Boys & Girls Clubs in Central N.H. made official

LACONIA — The Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Concord and the Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region have announced a merger and a have adopted a new name, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central New Hampshire. The newly combined organization provides after school enrichment programs, summer day camps and recreational basketball to over 600 youth each week at eight sites in Concord, Franklin, Hopkinton, Laconia, Suncook and Warner.
Executive and administrative offices will be headquartered in Concord according to Chris Emond, executive director of the Greater Concord Club. He said that the decision to merge was driven primarily by the efficiencies of scale that a centralized administration can offer, which will, in turn, help the clubs to deliver stronger youth development programming at a lower overall cost.
The plans to merge were announced last November and at the merger agreement included a provision that the property of the Laconia club, the former St. James Episcopal Church complex off North Main Street, will be "preserved in perpetuity of the benefit of the children of the Lakes Region". Emond explained at that time that the provision ensures that the merged entity cannot sell the property and, if for any reason, it were to be sold, will provide that the proceeds be placed in an endowment or trust for the purpose of serving the children of the Lakes Region.
The agreement provides that the clubs will continue to operate under their own boards of directors and programming personnel. Likewise, the two clubs will maintain their fundraising programs, so that money raised in the Lakes Region will be put to work in the Lakes Region. When the intent to merge was announced last fall, Emond noted that the Greater Concord clubs employ a development director and grant writer, both of whom will be able to assist the Lakes Region club with its fundraising efforts.
The Lakes Region Club launched a $2.4 million fund-raising drive two years ago after it acquired the church property and has since raised well over $1 million. There are three parts of the fund drive, $700,000 for the purchase of the church property, $700,000 for renovations to the property and $1 million for an endowment fund.

Forsten is only choice for Concord search committee for next superintendent - 204

LACONIA — Superintendent Terri Forsten has been chosen by the superintendent's search committee for the Concord School District to be the sole person recommended by them to become Concord's next superintendent.

Forsten, who lives in Concord with her family, has been with the Laconia School District for nearly 20 years, serving as its superintendent for the past two.

In a Thursday e-mail updating the Laconia School Board on the Concord process, she wrote that she will be touring the Concord School District all day on April 8, attending a public forum that evening and having an interview with the full Concord School Board Wednesday night.

The news from Concord was published in yesterday's Concord Monitor.

Forsten told The Daily Sun she would be available for an interview after Wednesday.

In addition, School Board Chair Joe Cormier sent an e-mail dated April 3 to the Laconia School District staff giving them assurances that local leadership is based on the strength of the entire district leadership team and not just one person.

He noted the Laconia School Board wishes to respect the Concord process and the district is prepared to start a search should it become necessary.

He closed by asking the staff to focus their attention on to the students and thanking them for all of their hard work and dedication to Laconia.

Commissioners look to move jail project along with hiring of architect

LACONIA — Belknap County Commissioners have approved a request for proposals from architectural firms for a schematic design and cost estimates for a 64-bed community corrections facility.
The RFP, which was approved at the Wednesday morning meeting of the commission, sets a May 8 deadline for submitting proposals with the project to be awarded by May 22 with an anticipated completion date of July 1.
Commissioners agreed with a recommendation by Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) that the architectural firm which is awarded the project would be paid on a fixed fee basis rather than as a percentage of the cost of the project.
Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy has said that he hopes to bring a bond issue for around $7 million to the Belknap County Convention for approval before the year ends in order to build the new facility, which is modeled on a similar one built in Sullivan County (Claremont) in 2008.
DeVoy said that the yearly payment on a bond issue of that size would be around $550,000, which the county could handle without a tax increase as bonds which are currently costing $600,000 a year in principal and interest payments will be retired in the near future.
The county has $440,000 in jail planning funds set aside in a newly created account in the 2015 budget.
The plan presented Kevin Warwick and Ross Cunningham of Alternative Solutions Associates, Inc. would see 30 treatment beds, 20 for men and 10 for women, and 34 work release beds, 24 for men and 10 for women. The new facility would be built next to the current jail and connected to it through a newly created control room. It would contain 22,327-square-feet and a suggested addition which would include a small 2,500-square-foot gym, 1,500-square-feet of administrative space — all of which would bring the total space to just over 27,000-square-feet.
The facility would be of heavy commercial grade construction and would provide residential minimum security treatment as well as group space for programs.
Other key considerations include a control room replacement for the current facility with a complete security system for a cost of $350,000, as well as upgrade to the HVAC system for the existing jail — with an eye to also having it handle the community corrections facility as well.
The RFP envisions that all work will be completed on the new facility before any renovations are undertaken in the current jail.