ELKHART —The Elkhart County Health Department has been clipping senior citizens’ toenails for a long time. Now, the foot care clinics that happen at different locations in the area are being scaled back because of budget cuts and rearrangement of staff responsibilities.
Dr. Daniel Nafziger, health officer, said the long-standing program provides basic foot care for senior citizens. Nursing assistants on staff at the health department bring supplies for the pedicures to various locations in Elkhart County, including apartment complexes that house primarily seniors, and the seniors turn out to get their toenails clipped and filed. They pay $15 for this service.
The relatively simple and somewhat intimate task is one that many older than 60 struggle with, according to Nafziger.
“Older folks may have trouble with the manual dexterity needed to trim their own nails,” said Nafziger. “They may not have good enough vision to trim their nails. An ingrown toenail can get infected and lead to significant foot problems, particularly for folks with diabetes.”
The health department’s records show 186 visits to the foot clinics between this year through May, said Nafziger. The health department doesn’t advertise this service, although information about the clinics can be found on the health department’s website, www.elkhartcountyhealth.org. Most people, said Nafziger, found out about the service from word of mouth.
Nafziger said the clinics are still happening, but on a smaller scale.
“We are just not offering as many clinics as we had in the past,” said Nafziger. “We are having to look at all our services because of budget issues.”
Rhonda Peacock, who works in community nursing at the health department, said that the department typically does four foot clinics each month at five locations in Elkhart County. That’s been reduced to two locations at Stratford Commons apartments and Riverside Village in Elkhart, and just six clinics for the remainder of 2013. These clinics won’t be open to the public and will instead happen in individual’s homes. The three locations that were cut are in Elkhart, Goshen and Nappanee.
A shift in staff responsibilities is also a factor in fewer foot clinics being offered. Nafziger said the health department will soon have fewer nursing assistants in order to afford one nurse practitioner. No one is being laid off, however. Nafziger said that a nurse and a nursing assistant are leaving the department.
“This seemed like an opportune time to make the change so it didn’t affect personnel,” he said.
The change is affecting the quality of life for some Elkhart County senior citizens, including Jacqueline Wilson, 86, and Floyd Manges, 87, both of Elkhart. Wilson and Manges, longtime friends and former employees of Elkhart Community Schools, have been getting their toenails clipped by Elkhart County Health Department staff for at least seven years by Wilson’s estimation.
Wilson said she and Manges recently received a letter from the Elkhart County Health Department letting them know that the foot care clinics would no longer be offered.
“I was just dumbfounded to get the letter,” said Wilson. “There’s a lot of seniors that rely on this. It’s been such a great service.”
Wilson said she can’t cut her own toenails because she has trouble leaning over, and she’s afraid to accidentally cut herself. She and Manges are both diabetic.
“I’ve told a lot of people about (the foot care clinics),” said Wilson in her Elkhart home on Monday, June 30. She said she knows a couple in their 90s who also regularly go to the clinics.
She’s taken it upon herself to make sure Manges, who suffers form congestive heart failure, is keeping up with his health.
“I’m in charge of him — that’s from the doctor,” said Wilson, gesturing toward Manges. “I call him morning, noon and at supper and I interrogate him. He has to take his shots, and his heart pills. Sometimes he slips up.”
Manges sheepishly admitted his forgetfulness, and explained that he first started going to the health department’s foot clinics when Wilson told him about the service years ago. He agrees that many local senior citizens seem to be using the service.
“I don’t know how many people go, but every time I went there was always somebody coming out,” said Manges.
“I can’t imagine why (the health department) would do this to us — I don’t think they know how many people it affects,” said Wilson. “They are doing away with a service that is needed and helpful to older people.”
Wilson said she’s not sure what she will do about cutting her toenails now.
“I can’t get the job done,” said Wilson.
Nafziger said he doesn’t think the nail services for seniors will ever go back to what they were.
“We have not really had an indication that the county budget will be improving or that we would be able to hire new people,” said Nafziger.
Health department personnel said the foot care clinics are by appointment only and seniors with questions about the service should call the health department at 574-523-2127.