March 30, 2013

Federal cuts limit Meals on Wheels program, forcing waiting list

Visits will be cut from 2 per day to 1 under sequestration hit

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

click image to enlarge

Seton Village resident Marie Rouleau, left, and personal support specialist Zandra Luce work in the kitchen preparing a meal on Monday. Rouleau is on a waiting list for the Meals on Wheels program.

Staff photo by David Leaming


Administrator Debra Silva said the Meals on Wheels program's waiting list has been growing since it was begun just a few weeks ago, and that she expects it to continue to grow. Here's a summary of how many are waiting in each location.

Muskie Center, Waterville: 14

Cohen Center, Hallowell: 9

Somerset Center, Skowhegan: 2

She said when her neck broke during a traction treatment for an injury she suffered during a fall, she lost the ability to drive, because she can no longer turn her head to the side.

Her doctors tell her that the neck will never heal, she said.

Rouleau's longevity, and her lack of mobility, have isolated her.

Care workers do come to her house regularly, and take her to the grocery store once a week, but mostly she sits, watching a steady diet of news programs, the TV western Bonanza, and game shows on her television.

Even watching TV hurts, she said, if she can't get the angle of the chair just right.

She has a hard time keeping herself occupied. An active person, she's not much for needlework or knitting.

"I just never had a knack for dainty work," she said.

Despite her independent nature, Rouleau isn't a stranger to Meals on Wheels. She's used the service twice in the past, each time for a couple of months to get through a recuperative period following surgery. She knows how to cook for herself.

"I used to have a good meal," she said. "Baked potato or mashed, a steak, maybe a chicken with some stuffing. I'd make a pie once in a while."

Now the neck injury limits what she can do. She no longer can lift a heavy roast or a chicken out of the low oven, or wash and cut vegetables.

Lately, she said, "I've been living on sandwiches and TV dinners. I eat a lot of soup."

The time to accept the help from Meals on Wheels had come again, Rouleau decided in early March.

However, when she called, she said, she learned that the program had stopped accepting new clients just a few days earlier. She became one of the first people in the area to be put on a waiting list that has grown to 25 people in just a few weeks.

Now, she said, she misses the food she used to be able to eat, particularly the vegetables.

"I don't think I'm getting the nutrition," she said.

Silva said Rouleau is an example of a new group of seniors throughout the area who are finding themselves in need, both of the nutrition and of the human contact that a twice-weekly visit from a Meals on Wheels volunteer brings into the home.

"We have to stop adding more meals, because we don't have enough money," Silva said.

Even those seniors who continue to receive the service will feel the pinch, she said, because beginning April 1, the service is scaling back from two visits per week to just one, in which the volunteer will deliver one hot meal and four frozen ones.

Silva said the change will save money because the program reimburses volunteers for their mileage costs. Still, she said, for many homebound seniors, the volunteer visit amounts to a safety check that is as important as the food being delivered.

"It's hard for us to have to give up one of those visits," she said. "We understand we have no choice, so we're trying to do the best we can," Silva said.

The ironic thing, Silva said, is that cutting these services actually costs taxpayers more money in the long term, because a tax dollar spent providing support services to someone at home can prevent having to spend many tax dollars on providing full-time care to the same person in a nursing home or an assisted-living facility.

"Our services let people age in their homes," she said. "It helps keep them in their home longer and costs far less than sending them to the emergency room or an assisted-living facility."

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send question/comment to the editors

Further Discussion

Here at we value our readers and are committed to growing our community by encouraging you to add to the discussion. To ensure conscientious dialogue we have implemented a strict no-bullying policy. To participate, you must follow our Terms of Use.

Questions about the article? Add them below and we’ll try to answer them or do a follow-up post as soon as we can. Technical problems? Email them to us with an exact description of the problem. Make sure to include:
  • Type of computer or mobile device your are using
  • Exact operating system and browser you are viewing the site on (TIP: You can easily determine your operating system here.)