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Salt Lake County Aging Services officials are making cutbacks in a program that keeps the most frail senior citizens out of nursing homes, and they hope things will get better in July.

The Alternatives Program provides home health, homemaker and other services to people who are "within 90 days of having to go into a nursing home." But its budget is based each year on "best guesstimates" and projections, said Shauna O'Neil, director of Aging Services. And this year the projections didn't pan out."At the beginning of the year we estimate that given our budget we can serve so many people. We have to assume so many will need the same level of services and some will get sicker and some will leave the program. We made assumptions that didn't work out.

"At this point, we're making relatively dramatic cuts. We reduced services for 180 of our 240 clients. We've gone through every single client. Some are so frail that they haven't received any service cuts. Case managers have evaluated them person by person: What services do they need? Can they take a cut? Is there family we can call on and say can you help us a little longer? We even have providers who have been cooperative in assuming some of the costs for the next 60 days," O'Neil said.

She emphasized that everyone affected by the cuts has already been contacted. "Don't panic," she said. "If you haven't heard from us, you can relax."

The division has asked its senior citizen volunteer corps to assume some of the nontechnical jobs, such as taking laundry to the laundermat for people who are homebound or helping with housework.

The Alternatives Program costs roughly $1,900 a year for each client, compared with an average of $2,400 a month that nursing home care costs. But the agency has never had enough money to take care of all the need and for many months has had a waiting list of 190 to 250 people.