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State officials visit Holly Place

February 10, 1999|By LAURA ERNDE

ANNAPOLIS - Raising rent and applying for federal grants might ease the financial woes of a Hagerstown assisted-living center, Maryland's Secretary of Aging said Wednesday.

But after hearing the suggestions, Holly Place administrators expressed doubts about the fate of the center's 30 low-income senior citizens.

Washington County's delegation to the General Assembly arranged the meeting Wednesday for Senior Living Alternatives, the nonprofit board that runs Holly Place.

Maryland Secretary of Aging Sue F. Ward and her staff told Holly Place managers they need to do two things.

The first, she said, it to raise the rent.

If the sliding scale topped out at $1,200 or more, rather than the current $976, the center would be eligible for that much more money in state subsidies, Ward said.

Senior Living Alternatives Inc. has been reluctant to raise the rent because its goal is to serve the poor.

"These are the people that fall through the cracks. The money is not going to come in, because it's not there," said board President Jean Hettenhouser.

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Ward said residents would not feel the rent hike because of the sliding scale.

Second, Ward encouraged the center to apply for subsidies through Medicaid.

The grants, a combination of federal and state money, cover people who would go into a nursing home without assisted-living services.

Holly Place Manager Melanie Socks said she has sought the grants but was told only three residents were eligible. Also, administrative costs outweighed the benefits, she said.

Ward said officials might be easing up on the eligibility requirements. Statewide, the federal grant program has doubled in the last six months, she said.

Board member John Hamburg said he's worried about what will happen if the state's suggestions don't solve Holly Place's problem.

"Are you going to be able to pick up the shortfall? We don't need to be hard-nosed about it, but we need to turn over every leaf we can to help these folks," he said.

He didn't get a definitive answer.

Ward and her staff said money budgeted for subsidies has not met the demand statewide.

Two group homes in Garrett County are going out of business and some on the Eastern Shore have financial problems.

Sen. Donald F. Munson encouraged Ward to seek more money from Gov. Parris N. Glendening.

"It's certainly not in the best interest of the state to let these facilities die," said Munson, R-Washington.

Ward agreed it is cheaper for taxpayers to pay for assisted-living centers than for nursing homes.

"We're going to work with you. We really will," Ward told Holly Place managers.

Donations have allowed the center to keep its doors open for another three months.

A community fund-raiser last month brought in about $20,000. The Gaming Commission awarded Holly Place $30,000 on Tuesday.

But the center's long-term financial problems, which stem from rising grocery and utility bills and flat Social Security checks, haven't been solved, Hettenhouser said.

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