The Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs lacks the leadership and oversight it needs to be a strong advocate for Louisiana’s elderly, a legislative auditor’s report issued Monday concluded.

The Governor’s Office defended its office operations in the wake of the report.

But state Rep. Joe Harrison, who has worked for changes for the last four years, said the report underscores continuing problems and said he’ll be back with legislation seeking structural changes to better serve Louisiana’s some 800,000 aging adults.

The auditor said Elderly Affairs could better manage its network of agencies if it had an executive director — a position that Gov. Bobby Jindal has left vacant since 2012.

In addition, the auditor said money allocated to the office may not be going to meet the needs of the elderly in some of the state’s poorest parishes.

The Governor’s Office agency oversees a network of 36 federally authorized Area Agencies on Aging, 64 parish Councils on Aging and 132 senior centers.

Gov. Bobby Jindal’s press office responded to questions with a statement stating the governor must appoint from candidates nominated by the Louisiana Executive Board on Aging and the only nominee forwarded had ethics issues. “Effectively serving our seniors is very important, which is why we increased funding to local Councils on Aging by $7.4 million last year,” press secretary Shannon Bates wrote in an email. She also noted that a number of changes recommended in the report have been made.

Harrison said the Elderly Affairs office staff has been “decimated” by the Jindal administration.

“I don’t know who’s in charge,” the Houma Republican said. “It’s down to a skeleton crew. The Council on Aging staff just don’t get answers from people.”

In November, Louisiana voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment sponsored by Harrison that would have allowed creation of a state Department of Elderly Affairs. Harrison had argued for a central agency consolidating all services for the state’s aging that are currently scattered throughout state government. “I’ve got a backup plan,” he said.

The report issued by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office recommended that Elderly Affairs alter its formula determining allocation of funds to better target needy areas. The current formula “does not consider rural areas or target minorities although most other states use these factors … ” the auditor wrote.

In addition, the auditor suggested the office use available data to determine what services are needed where as well as use waiting lists to identify unmet needs.

Management practices also need to be standardized. The auditor noted wide disparity in administrative costs compared to total funding at Councils on Aging ranging from less than 1 percent in Ascension to 81.8 percent in Iberville.

“Overall, we found that having a stronger and more consistent oversight and strategically using data to evaluate and manage would help (Elderly Affairs) ensure that effective and relevant services are delivered to the increasing number of elderly in Louisiana,” the audit said.

“With a growing population and limited resources, it is important that (Elderly Affairs) find way to target needs and improve oversight of service delivery in the aging network,” the auditor said.

Louisiana’s population age 60 or older is expected to grow from 628,540 based on the 2010 census to an estimated 846,316 in 2020.

The audit report said Elderly Affairs faces numerous “challenges” including:

  • Councils on Aging are hampered in their ability to provide quality services by a lack of funding and transportation as well as a poor tax and industry base in some communities.
  • A large network of entities with “unclear roles and responsibilities.”
  • A growing number of baby boomers with different service needs than previous generations.

In a written response to the report, Elderly Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Karen Ryder agreed with some of the findings but disagreed with others.

Ryder said procedures are already in place to satisfy the auditor’s recommendation concerning maintaining waiting lists for services and assessing needs.

The funding formula does not need changing, Ryder said. “The current formula meets all federal requirements and guidelines,” she said. “The approved funding formula ... allows for targeting funding areas with the greatest needs and allows equitable funding as necessary to the small rural parishes as well as the large urban parishes.”

Follow Marsha Shuler on Twitter @MarshaShulerCNB. For more coverage of the state capitol, follow Louisiana Politics at http://blogs.theadvocate.com/politicsblog/