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Meals on Wheels acquires in-home health care nonprofit

There’s been some big changes over the past few month’s at Austin’s Meals on Wheels agency.

First, the group changed its name from Meals on Wheels and More, which it had used since 1994, to Meals on Wheels Central Texas to more accurately represent the seven-county area the group now serves.

Then, the group added another to the long list of services it provides by acquiring the in-home health care nonprofit Helping the Aging, Needy and Disabled, better known as HAND. The group provides personal care attendants to low-income older adults and people with disabilities.

Those care attendants help the group’s nearly 400 clients with daily activities such as bathing, getting dressed, grooming, going to the grocery story, eating, meal preparation and pretty much anything else the clients need help with. That assistance allows clients, most of whom are elderly, to continue living independently in their own homes, which is why Meals on Wheels saw its acquisition as a perfect fit for its agency.

“Our mission is to keep people in their homes as long as they can stay in their homes,” said Dan Pruett, president and CEO of Meals on Wheels Central Texas. “They want dignity and independence.”

Meals on Wheels Central Texas already provides a variety of services to its approximately 5,000 yearly clients, such as the preparation and delivery of warm meals, home repairs, veterans assistance, disability programs and assistance with pet care for elderly residents. The acquisition of HAND, Pruett said, added another service the group had been eyeing for a long time.

“The thing about in-home care is it’s a big deal,” Pruett said. “It keeps people living independently and out of other forms of more expensive care.”

Most of Meals on Wheels’ clients are low-income, so when they go into assisted living it costs taxpayers an estimated $37,000 a year or more per person, the group said. But through its mix of services, which is now bolstered by its offering of in-home care, Meals on Wheels can help keep those people in their homes for 10 percent of what it would cost for them to go to assisted living.

“It’s fiscally conservative and it’s the right thing to do,” Pruett said.

With a grant of $264,980 from the St. David’s Foundation, Meals on Wheels acquired the in-home health care nonprofit and merged it into its line-up of services in June. HAND remains its own independent entity, but is under the purview of Meals on Wheels and is offered in its list of services to low-income people.

Meals on Wheels kept HAND’s staff but appointed a new executive director from among the Meals on Wheels ranks. It also appointed a new board of directors to oversee the nonprofit’s operations.

And while reviewing HAND’s operations as part of the merger, Meals on Wheels officials learned that about 25 percent of the in-home care nonprofit’s clients overlap with clients already on Meals on Wheels services. And now Meals on Wheels’ can introduce HAND’s services to a broader client base, Pruett said.

In the end, he said, it’s all about trying to create a one-stop shop where elderly and other citizens in need can get services they need.

“The folks we serve are a quiet population,” he said. “We can’t forget them.”

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