STOCK Verona Senior Center building

The Verona Senior Center, 108 S. Paoli St.

Senior citizens in the Town of Verona now have access to services closer to home.

After having to use the Sugar River Senior Center in the Village of Belleville, Town of Verona residents are now able to use the Verona Senior Center in the same manner as City of Verona residents as of Jan. 1.

“It makes more sense, I think, for those folks to come here, we’re physically closer,” Verona Senior Center director Stephanie Ehle told the Press.

There are three services that will now be operated by the center in Verona instead of out of Belleville, she said. Those are food, case management and transportation.

Monday, Jan. 3, was the first day for Verona to serve Town of Verona residents Meals on Wheels, and there were around seven or eight new individuals at VSC who’d been going to Belleville for that service, Ehle said.

“From what the Town of Verona shared, Meals on Wheels was going to be the biggest impact on us,” she said. “We rearranged our routes, but it went well.”

The Verona staff are initially planning on now getting 20 more people per day across all their nutrition services, Ehle said.

The Verona center had been talking with the Belleville center for a while ahead of this week’s transition, she said, requesting data on how many people they had been serving, so that transition would be seamless.

It took a lot of coordinating to get a sense of where the new Meals on Wheels patrons were located and printing new driving routes.

“It took a little bit of planning to make sure we had the information so we were ready to help serve,” Ehle said. “They were forthcoming with data but concerned if we will handle all their clients with care – which obviously we will – but it’s hard for them to lose those folks.”

Town of Verona residents will now get their casement management from the city’s two case managers, Julie Larson and Drake Deno.

“Our team reached out to everyone and introduced ourselves, and it seems like a welcome change from what we can tell,” Ehle said of the new clients. “I think It went pretty smoothly.”

The Belleville center’s case manager also reached out to clients about the changeover.

People can use case managers for a variety of services such as help with resources when they’re moving, assistance transitioning from home into nursing care, or if they’re food insecure, Ehle said.

Town of Verona administration helped by mailing out information to residents about which services would be taken care of by the city’s center starting Jan. 1, Ehle said.

“A lot of that communication was done on their end,” she said.

And Town of Verona residents who weren’t or aren’t already receiving services at Belleville will be sent over to Verona if they unknowingly contact Belleville, she said.

At the same time as the Verona center anticipates an uptick in both delivery and in-house meals, it recently lost its nutritional coordinator, Ehle said.

The center had just increased the hours from half time to a full-time 40-hour-a-week position, but the coordinator resigned.

For now, the center is filling that vacancy with internal staffing and volunteers, but it’s actively recruiting for a full-time nutrition coordinator.

Fortunately, the center partners with TnT’s Catering out of Middleton for all cooking, and the coordinator role is more about portioning out meals. Which – considering the center distributes upwards of 80 meals on some days – it’d not be able to sustain that if it had to also cook the meals, Ehle said.

For home delivery of meals, there’s been no lapse despite the loss of the nutrition coordinator, just some snafus such as providing the wrong type of cookie for dessert – for which staff just apologize and promise to get right next time, Ehle said.

As of now, the center is also not really advertising its congregate dine-in meals – in-part because of Omicron variant surge in COVID-19, but also because the center has a goal this year to transition meals into a “grab ‘n’ go” format, so that patrons pick up a meal and then head to an event such as a movie screening or a game of Bingo.

In part, that will help food insecure folks blend in more, Ehle said. But it will also make it harder to visualize the increase in patrons coming from the Belleville center, she said.

Other than meals, transportation services and case management, people who live in the City of Verona, Town of Verona or Belleville can go to either center for classes, workshops and programming. There are no set boundaries for those offerings, Ehle said.

“We’re excited to welcome people from the Town of Verona,” she said. “But as anyone was welcome to participate in programs here before, I’m not sure there will be a big surge of people.”

As for increasing the number of people using the center at the same time as the number of COVID-19 cases have increased, Ehle said her staff are approaching 2022 “quietly and gingerly.”

Between COVID-19, it being flu season, and them being down the nutrition coordinator position, they have had to shift gears a little bit, she said.

“We have a light first quarter, but our ‘light’ is still a bit heavy compared to other senior centers,” she said, “We’re trying to do a little planning ahead to save resources and time, and be more organized with how we do things. We’re moving ahead like we want to be normal.”

Reporter Neal Patten can be reached at npatten@wisconsinmediagroup.com

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