Excerpted from an Albany Herald story by Jennifer Parks

The SOWEGA Council on Aging’s recent announcement about the anticipated change to the Meals on Wheels program made note of a policy requirement of the Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Aging Services concerning volunteer background checks. The announcement noted that the program change supports legislation signed by Gov. Nathan Deal earlier this month.

Shortly after the policy change was reported in The Albany Herald, former Council on Aging executive director Kay Hind told The Herald that such a policy had been on the books for several years without being implemented, that SB 406 should not have played a factor in the decision and that the community should have been better informed of the change.

Earlier this week, DHS officials further connected the change to the policy, saying it has been in place for some time.

Abby Cox, director of the Division of Aging Services, sent the following statement to The Herald to clarify the policy.

“The Department’s policy to require fingerprint-based background checks for any person who has direct contact with clients — employees, contractors or volunteers — has been in place for several years. Additionally, there has been a longstanding contractual requirement for any entity performing service on behalf of the department to abide by agency policy.

“In the case of meals delivered to homebound clients, fingerprint-based background checks are designed to ensure that those who go into the homes of our most vulnerable Georgians do not have a documented history of exploiting or abusing others.

“Home-delivered meals are an integral part of the department’s mission to empower individuals to live safe, healthy and independent lives in the setting of their choosing. In state Fiscal Year 2017, the program provided more than 2.4 million meals to Georgians who were homebound, including providing nutrition to more than 200 Dougherty County residents.

“SOWEGA (Council on Aging) has a long history of leadership within Georgia’s aging network, and their dedication to the older adult and disabled adult populations in their area has set a standard for others to follow.”

Council on Aging officials said earlier this month that, effective June 1, the more than 300 volunteers used to deliver meals to the homebound as part of the Meals on Wheels program in Dougherty County would no longer be utilized, saying it would cost $15,000 a year to perform the necessary COGENT background checks on those volunteers.

Instead, Middle Flint, which handles the homebound meals for the council’s other 13 counties, will perform those duties. A few jobs at the Council on Aging were impacted as a result of the change.

You can read the full story here.