Following their designation from the Iowa Department of Aging, the Elderbridge Agency visited Spencer Saturday morning to meet face-to-face with the staff and clientele of Northwest Aging.
"We're very early in the transition process," Elderbridge Executive Director Mick Tagesen said. "One of our goals is to carry on the tradition Northwest Aging has built here."
Elderbridge's expansion began as a merger with Northwest Aging. Tagesen noted at the meeting, however, that several other aging agencies who are in the process of merging are experiencing difficulties that Northwest Aging and Elderbridge have since avoided.
Alongside designation of Elderbridge and the de-designation of Northwest Aging comes the looming anticipation of severe budget cuts in the next few years. Tagesen is expecting a $288,000 budget cut by July 2014.
"My philosophy is to spread the cuts out," Tagesen said. "The more you spread it out, the less the impact has on one specific area."
The expansion will transition Elderbridge from a 20-county agency to a 29-county agency. Tagesen noted that he will need to hire several employees, though he's working with an employment attorney. Ideally, he said, he would be able to hire only Northwest Aging staff. He isn't able to do so for several management positions, though other positions he is looking to make available solely to Northwest Aging.
"Not every job will be available," Tagesen said, "but I'm doing my best."
Several concerns from the audience involved the Iowa Public Employees Retirement System. Elderbridge is an IPERS agency.
"Those who have kept IPERS up to date will actually benefit from this transition," Tagesen said, "and if you had IPERS previously, you will have the option to buy back in."
Throughout the meeting, Tagesen emphasized that the expansion will not create a division within the Elderbridge agency.
"We are one company that will serve 29 counties," he said. "We want to offer jobs to Northwest Aging people. We want to stay in Spencer, where the Northwest Aging tradition was."
Included in the budget cuts, Tagesen said, will be some of the programs that Elderbridge currently offers to their residents.
"If a program can't be put into our expanded areas, we got rid of it," he said. "We kept the necessary programs, and we kept the program that we could offer throughout our service area."
He continued. "Anytime I can save money, I will. Every dime I save is a dime I can give to a senior."
Tagesen used the meeting both to offer details to the Northwest Aging community and also to offer hope moving forward.
"At some point, we have to step back and say 'We can't change the past. We can only change the present and the future,'" he said. "If we take this 'one' mindset into the future, we'll arrive at July 1 a whole lot better."