QUEENSBURY — More than 100 seniors attended a public meeting Monday to protest proposed cuts to Warren County’s senior meals program, questioning whether cuts can be made in other areas to preserve jobs of meals program workers at the Cedars Senior Living Community.
Two county supervisors who attended the meeting said they will go back to the county Board of Supervisors to discuss alternatives to the cuts that would result in a loss of up to four jobs.
“I think we ought to go back to the well to try to find the money,” said Glens Falls 2nd Ward Supervisor Peter McDevitt.
The county Office for the Aging has proposed ending meal preparation for the program at the Cedars and instead contracting with Washington County to have senior meals produced at the Washington County Jail in Fort Edward for distribution through the Meals on Wheels program and at meal sites in Queensbury and Glens Falls.
The switch would result in the elimination of four part-time jobs and cut hours of three more positions at the meal site, since the staff would no longer be preparing food.
The proposal was made by OFA Director Deanna Park after the Board of Supervisors asked her to cut $150,000 from her 2018 budget. She was able to make cuts to other facets of the program that would save $76,000, but she said the only option that did not involve cutting the number of meals or delivery of them was to outsource meal production and cut positions.
Park said the meals would be of the same quality, and made by jail staff and not inmates. The jail kitchen prepares meals for all of Washington County’s senior meals programs, and the switch will save $74,000 annually, Park said.
The vast majority of the seniors who were present were opposed to the cuts, some booing and shouting down Park as she talked. They questioned the quality of the food, whether inmates will be involved in preparation and whether delayed delivery will result in cold food.
Park and Washington County Sheriff Jeff Murphy said inmates are not involved in the meal preparation, and Park said food will be delivered as promptly as it has been.
Several of the meal site workers were present and chimed in on the proposal, questioning whether cuts could be made at other meal sites or elsewhere in the Office for the Aging budget. They also asked why there was no public discussion before last week, when The Post-Star reported on a committee meeting where the cuts were discussed.
The discussion devolved to the point that Park was asked why she needed certain office positions, or whether positions could be cut at other meal sites.
Others in attendance praised the kitchen staff and Meals on Wheels drivers for their help to seniors, and said they are an invaluable asset.
“You’re not going to find better staff than you have here,” said Bob “Digger” White.
Park said the positions that were to be eliminated are part-time, with some getting fringe benefits, but one of the kitchen staff members told the crowd that she works 35 hours a week and is considered full-time.
Park said the meal production switch and job cuts were the only alternative short of taking meals away from seniors.
“I know it’s unfortunate and I know it’s sad, but it’s the only way I could come up with a difference,” she said.
The county Board of Supervisors Finance Committee is expected to discuss the issue during its regular meeting Thursday morning, with the full Board of Supervisors to consider it Feb. 16 if it makes it through the Finance Committee.
Queensbury Supervisor John Strough, who attended the meeting at the Cedars, said many of the ideas presented Monday needed additional consideration.
At least one other supervisor, Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Doug Beaty, said Monday that he will not support the proposed job cuts and that he thinks alternatives need to be explored.
Queensbury at-Large Supervisor Matt Sokol, chairman of the Finance Committee, said the committee will discuss options with the program at its meeting.
Justine Gery was found unconscious on the side of a road last Feb. 15, knocked out from the heroin she had used minutes earlier and near death.
After four doses of Narcan revived her, she awoke in an emergency room in Philadelphia, the city where she had fled to avoid her probation officer in Warren County.
Ninety minutes later, Gery was released from the hospital, a packet of heroin in her bra and opioid pain pills in her purse.
Nothing was done to direct her toward any programs that could help with her addiction, she said.
Weeks later, when a close friend died of a heroin overdose, Gery decided she finally needed to get real help.
Her probation officer directed her to a new opioid “diversion” program that was a collaboration of Glens Falls City Court, the Council for Prevention and Glens Falls Hospital’s Center for Recovery and was modeled after successful programs in other parts of the country.
It mixed a blend of rehabilitation, support, skills-building, physical activity and potential sanctions to keep opioid users on a path to beating their addiction.
Gery, 35, of Hudson Falls was the first participant, and she credits the program for saving her life.
The mother of a young son, Gery said she has been off heroin for seven months, the last four of which have been spent in the diversion program.
It was a long road of two decades of drug abuse that sent Gery to rock bottom, a road that included a misdemeanor conviction in a 2016 check fraud case.
As with many addicts, her heroin problem began with legal use of opioid painkiller pills for an injury in 2009, she said, and after becoming addicted, she found it was cheaper and easier to get heroin than pills.
The public does not realize how easily available opioids are, and that all segments of society are abusing them, she said.
“This disease does not discriminate at all,” Gery said. “Right now it is easier to buy heroin as a high school student than it is to buy beer. That is a fact.”
Gery said she had been in-and-out of other rehabilitation programs over the years with mixed success.
But the combination of oversight from Judge Gary Hobbs, the physical challenges through Council for Prevention and the attention from Center for Recovery’s staff has been what she needed to get her over the hump, with seven months of sobriety behind her.
She is at the Center for Recovery five days a week and has gotten to look forward to the weekly outdoor activities that make up the challenge portion of the program, with outings such as hiking, canoeing and snowshoeing.
Gery said the mixture of rehabilitation, physical activity and support from the counselors she works with, in particular Caitlin Houle from the Center for Recovery, have created a mix of assistance that has worked for her.
“If I need her at any time, she is here,” Gery said of Houle. “This has become my home away from home.”
Spencer Morris, diversion program coordinator for the Council for Prevention, said the council has used the “challenge” concept with success with younger at-risk participants, and thought it could help with those who are a bit older as well.
“The idea is they get out of their comfort zone and are developing strengths,” he said. “We’re hoping they can figure out these are activities they can do for themselves, to replace the harmful behaviors with positive behaviors.”
The activities involve other family members, so those in recovery can start rebuilding their relationships with loved ones. Gery said she looks forward to the outings.
Susan Roberts, director of the Center for Recovery, said a $280,000 state grant awarded to the Council for Prevention has funded the program for Washington and Warren counties, but it has been difficult to find participants from Washington County. District Attorney Tony Jordan said eligible offenders there have been choosing to serve jail terms instead of seeking sobriety.
Roberts said those involved with the program have begun outreach efforts in Washington County courts. They are starting to screen families for participation by people who have not been arrested, to address their problem before they commit crimes. To continue the funding, the program needs participants, Roberts said.
Roberts praised Gery’s strength in continuing on a path of sobriety, but Gery said much of the credit goes to those who have worked with her.
“This program has changed my life,” Gery said. “I really want to see it continue to succeed.”
Those who have interest in the program can call the Center for Recovery at 518-926-7200.
QUEENSBURY — The Toys R Us in Queensbury is not closing after all.
In a posting over the weekend on the local store’s Instagram page @truglensfalls, there is a photo of the outside of the store on Upper Glen Street with the caption: “We’re staying open! Thank you to all our customers for their support.” The post does not offer any further details.
Don Cameron, store manager, confirmed Monday that the store is staying open, but said he could not provide further information. He referred questions to the corporate press spokesperson.
A phone call and email sent to Toys R Us corporate headquarters was not immediately returned on Monday.
The store was one of 182 on a list released last week of possible closures as the company is in bankruptcy. However, company officials had said they were hoping to negotiate some better leases to allow some of the stores to stay open.
Officials did not say at the time if the Queensbury location was one of these stores.
The Queensbury store had been placed on the closure list based on store performance, the local market and “overall financials,” including the cost of the lease, the company had said.
Locally, there are about 25 employees, both full-time and part-time. The next closest Toys R Us store is in Clifton Park.
The Queensbury store opened in November 1996 in a building that had housed a Grand Union supermarket, which had closed in 1995.
Updates on this story will be posted when they become available.