Johnson Senior Center

Johnson Senior Center in Amherst. 

Amherst County took over management of the Johnson Senior Center, Inc., which houses more than a dozen seniors, after the county’s social services department learned Friday workers were in danger of not getting paid.

County Administrator Dean Rodgers said Monday he and Amherst County Director of Public Safety Sam Bryant signed a local emergency measure, allowing the county to take over management of the facility, which has been struggling financially since 2018, as a shelter.

According to a copy of the local emergency declaration, the senior living facility had insufficient funds to make payroll for approximately 16 employees and it is necessary for the center to continue operation while it has residents to prevent or alleviate potential damage, loss, hardship or suffering of county residents.

“The residents are being cared for properly,” Rodgers said in a phone interview Monday. “We are finding them new residences as soon as we can. This is not a significant expense to the county. And we’ve got state-level assistance.”

In November 2018 Mike Dolan, who co-owns the facility, said the center would close around that Thanksgiving holiday week because of financial difficulties. James Downey, Jr., an attorney at the time representing Melessa Dolan, a shareholder for the facility, wrote in an email in early November 2018 the center retained a management firm to handle its daily operations and would remain open.

The Dolans, who are divorced, could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

The center, which has a 40-year history in Amherst, had more than 70 residents, seniors and individuals with disabilities and employed more than 20 employees in late 2018.

The county will use the facility to care for the residents and assume payroll responsibilities and pay workers until the emergency declaration is lifted. The county reserves the right to seek reimbursement from the center for all expenses resulting from the local emergency, the declaration states.

Rodgers said the county’s operation of the shelter is temporary and is under the umbrella of adult protective services work by the county’s department of social services. The department has gone into the facility, which has multiple structures, inventoried the food pantry, moved all the residents into a single building, confirmed medication supplies are suitable and provided gas for transporting residents to other locations, according to Rodgers.

The Amherst County Department of Social Services is actively engaged in finding new homes for remaining residents, Rodgers said.

“By tomorrow we will only have to find placement for eight residents,” he said Monday.

The Virginia Department of Social Services has sent the county $10,500 to help cover expenses, he said. The county also is paying the water bill, he said.

Amherst Town Manager Sara Carter confirmed Monday the town has closed the Johnson Senior Center water account and reopened it in the county’s name. The town feels the county stepping in is a necessary measure, she said.

“There have been a lot of folks who have been watching this situation and have the best interests of the residents at heart,” Carter said.

In November 2018, Susan Mays, director of Amherst County’s Department of Social Services, told the county’s board of supervisors efforts among a group to relocate residents were put on hold following the agreement for a company to take over operations.

The owners had past due bills to multiple entities, including a pharmacy, three food vendors and the town of Amherst, according to a written report Mays submitted to supervisors in late 2018. She wrote in the November 2018 report to supervisors the owners had difficulty making payroll and the Johnson Senior Center at one point was operating without a licensed administrator, which violates state code.

Mays wrote to supervisors in late 2018 a worst-case scenario is an emergency shelter could be necessary to serve residents.

Rodgers said the county’s intervention in this type of situation rarely happens and the move is not a big hit to the county’s budget.

“Our responsibility ends once the last resident places somewhere,” Rodgers said.

Reach Justin Faulconer at (434) 385-5551.

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