Morse takes leave from Silver Key to run for office

       Running as the Democratic candidate for the District 11 State Senate seat, John Morse will take a leave of absence from his position as president/CEO of the Westside-based Silver Key Senior Services, starting July 15.
       “I believe Silver Key needs a CEO who can dedicate 100 percent to the job,” he said in a prepared statement. “I know I cannot commit the time to both and be effective.”
       In his place, at least until the November election, will be Mary Cathryn Haller, who has 13 years of nursing home experience and most recently was the executive director of the Colorado Springs Youth Symphony Association.
       But Morse's departure from the non-profit agency has not been quiet. Shortly before his announcement, he combined two departments - resulting in layoffs of 5 of Silver Key's 55 workers, including individuals with 14, 15 and 19 years of experience.
       They received severance pay (one week for every year of employment) and professional consultation in looking for new jobs, Morse said in a follow-up interview.
       Also, in the last few months the agency has raised certain requested costs for seniors, including those for meals, transportation and medical equipment.
       A former Silver Key employee (name withheld) termed such actions “heartless,” but Morse, a former Fountain police chief who was hired in the fall of 2004, responded that all his efforts have been geared toward “doing the right thing for the organization.”
       His main effort, he explained, is to change what was once a “sleepy little volunteer organization” that barely used computers into an efficient operation capable of taking on the challenges of an increasing senior population, tighter dollars, increasing government requirements and a need for computerized record-keeping.
       Morse emphasized that indigent seniors can still receive free or discounted services, like they always have. The idea is to stop giving those to seniors who can afford to pay. As an example, he said, “When I got here, seniors were paying $2.65 each for Meals on Wheels, but our direct cost was $3.55. We were subsidizing meals for people who live in the Broadmoor or Rockrimmon or Briargate. Some of these are low-income, but most are not.”
       Transportation shows an even greater discrepancy. With gas prices at about $3, the average round trip - factoring in labor and insurance expenses - to take seniors shopping, to their doctors or other destinations is $26. Yet there is still no required payment, and the average “donation” is $1.69, Morse said.
       One of his goals, if his election attempt is unsuccessful and he returns to the agency, will be to start distinguishing in Silver Key files between needy and non-needy seniors. This could ease the current problem of determining whether people should or should not pay, Morse said.
       Mikki Kraushaar was the Silver Key director for 25 years, gearing it to people over age 60, with no distinction as to income. A large volunteer base (400 is the estimate number now) has always helped out. Kraushaar ran the operation until 2004, when she retired. Funding still comes in much the same way as in her day, through grants, donations and some government money.
       A $400,000 stipend this year from the Pikes Peak Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) has eased some of the travel costs, but the total bill for Silver Key's 80,000 trips a year is about $1 million and donors still pay a quarter of that, Morse said.
       Changes during Morse's tenure have included the expansion of the agency's Silver & Such store (which sells higher-end donated items), a change in the annual Christmas Giving Tree program (gifts still come from the community, but they are now bought from a “common list” of agency-determined items rather than from seniors' personal requests), and the end of the annual outdoor summer fair and book fair.
       The former Silver Key employee said such actions, combined with the tighter payment rules and layoffs/ departures of employees who started under Kraushaar, took away from the original intent of just helping seniors. “It's been pure hell saying no to the elderly,” was one comment in an interview with the Pioneer.
       Morse said the layoffs, while “unfortunate for the individuals,” were necessary for an efficient combination of the guardianship and social services departments. Guardianship is a service, funded mostly by donations, in which Silver Key people ensure that physically or mentally disabled seniors are being properly cared for.
       “This positions us to move forward and gives us more flexibility and capability in the long run,” Morse said. “if what I've done at Silver Key reflects negatively on my State Senate campaign, I'll just have to deal with that.”
       Steve Mulliken, chair of Silver Key's volunteer board of directors, supported Morse in a statement: “John has been crucial in positioning Silver Key for the growth in demand for services that we will see as baby-boomers enter the over-60 age group. As a non-profit organization, we cannot endorse his candidacy, but we wish him the very best and know he will continue to keep Silver Key's mission and goals in his mind in the future.”

Westside Pioneer article