Fayette County

State yanks aging, independent living services from Bluegrass ADD

The Bluegrass Area Development District building 699 Perimeter Drive in Lexington.
The Bluegrass Area Development District building 699 Perimeter Drive in Lexington. Herald-Leader

State officials abruptly yanked all aging and independent living funding from the Bluegrass Area Development District on Tuesday because of alleged ongoing financial issues at the agency.

Financial oversight of senior and independent living services will be transferred to the state, officials said. Some of those services include home-delivered meals, , in-home care and programming dollars for senior citizen centers in the 17-county area that includes Fayette County. Those programs serve roughly 5,500 people. State officials said Tuesday those services will not be affected.

Bluegrass oversees $6.4 million in federal and state aging dollars.

Officials with Bluegrass did not return phone calls and emails asking for comment. According to Bluegrass’ website, the Bluegrass executive committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday.

In a letter dated Tuesday, a senior official with the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services said the state was going to execute an “immediate take over of federal and state operations” of Bluegrass’ aging services “until such time as deemed appropriate” by the state.

The letter, signed by Deborah Anderson, commissioner of the Department of Aging and Independent Living, directs Bluegrass to turn over all records, equipment and information regarding aging and independent living services to state officials immediately.

State officials were allowed in the Bluegrass’ Perimeter Drive building Tuesday but were not given those files, said Doug Hogan, a spokesman for the cabinet.

“We were allowed in the building but denied access to any and all records for inspection and examination,” Hogan said. Hogan said the state will work to gain access to the information but said it’s unclear if that means the state will take Bluegrass to court.

“We hope it doesn’t come to that but we will take all steps necessary and appropriate to ensure services are not disrupted and that state resources are recovered,” Hogan said.

Hogan said the state’s decision not to continue to use Bluegrass to oversee aging and independent living services can not be appealed.

Anderson’s letter said the action was taken after Gov. Matt Bevin terminated Bluegrass’s federal workforce grants after June 30. In a late May letter, Bevin told Bluegrass it was also barred from bidding on federal workforce training grants in the future. Bevin said he was concerned that there were ongoing financial oversight problems at the district. A state review of 2015 spending of federal workforce dollars showed questionable spending, including alleged excessive travel expenses.

But aging and independent living services are separate from workforce training dollars and overseen by a different state agency.

“No services will be lost to consumers through this transition,” Hogan said. “The contract will be directly between the state and the vendors. The customers should not see any disruption.”

Marchele Jenkins, executive director of the Frankfort Senior Activity Center, said she was notified by the state about the change in administration of those dollars. The senior center receives funding through Bluegrass. Jenkins said seniors should not panic. The senior center’s services will continue.

“The state has reassured us that there will not be any disruption of services,” Jenkins said. “Our senior center is not closing. It’s going to be the same. There is just going to be a different administrator of those funds.”

Hogan said the state’s agreement with Bluegrass to provide aging services ends June 30. That’s why the state decided to move Tuesday to try to remove the files from the agency.

“The state continues to have concerns regarding the overall management of the ADD including fiscal integrity standards,” Hogan said.

Cabinet officials have said Bluegrass must repay the state more than $187,000 in questionable spending from 2010 to 2013. Some of those disallowed costs include one-time bonuses paid to some employees. At the same time those bonuses were paid, there were waiting lists for senior and aging services, state officials have said.

Bluegrass officials have repeatedly said they have corrected problems at the district. They ousted a former director and have had corrective action plans approved by two different state agencies — the Cabinet for Health and Family Services and the Education and Workforce Cabinet, which oversees federal workforce training programs for unemployed and under-employed workers. Bluegrass officials have also said they have not received detailed information from the state about the outstanding financial problems. It’s impossible for them to correct problems if the state doesn’t tell them what those problems are, they have said.

Hogan said Bluegrass officials have not yet repaid the state the $187,000 in federal and state money that the state says was misspent.

“As of Friday, they have told the state they would not repay those funds,” Hogan said.

It’s not clear what will happen to Bluegrass’ more than 40 employees that oversee aging and independent living services. The state Education and Workforce Cabinet said Bluegrass workforce employees would be encouraged to apply to a new provider that will take over workforce training on July 1. State workforce officials said earlier this month that they wanted to keep those Bluegrass employees that oversaw the workforce training programs.

No such assurances were given by state aging and independent living officials Tuesday.

In addition to aging and independent living services and workforce training, Bluegrass also provides planning services for the 17-county area. Bluegrass has an annual budget of more than $24.4 million, 90 percent of which comes from federal and state grants.

Many smaller counties and towns depend on Bluegrass for grant writing and other planning services. The 17 counties the agency serves are Anderson, Bourbon, Boyle, Clark, Estill, Fayette, Franklin, Garrard, Harrison, Jessamine, Lincoln, Madison, Mercer, Nicholas, Powell, Scott and Woodford.

It appears that some of Bluegrass aging and independent living operations may be moved to a building owned by the city of Lexington. The Urban County Council is expected to give first reading Thursday for a new lease agreement between the city and the state for 3,311 square feet of office space at Black and Williams Neighborhood Center for $1,329 a month. The initial lease is for 90 days but can be renewed. City officials have been told the space will be used for Bluegrass aging employees.

Beth Musgrave: 859-231-3205, @HLCityhall