Ottney: Trash talkWritten by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | email@example.com
Eddie Garcia is a changed man, progress he and his employers attribute largely to his job.
He works for Maumee-based Triad Residential Solutions, a business that employs developmentally disabled adults in jobs like shredding, sorting or — in Garcia’s case — maneuvering trash and recycling bins to and from the curb for disabled city residents.
Ben Harteis, who oversees Triad’s trash aid program, said the job is a perfect fit for Garcia, who used to struggle with behavioral issues, but has thrived in the outside job with plenty of movement and “guy time.”
“I love it,” Garcia said. “I don’t care if it’s raining or snowing.”
Garcia and fellow worker Jim Furney are the two main employees in Triad’s trash aid program. Garcia has worked on the crew since the program started in 2010. Furney started two years ago.
“The Eddie we have today is not the Eddie we had four years ago,” Harteis said. “That Eddie was one handful of a guy. He’s totally different now. They are both different people when they are out doing that job, they really are.”
The service, which Triad has performed since 2010 at no cost to the city or county, has grown from 30 homes to 206 today, with more being screened and referred by Republic Services weekly, said Hillary Moore, Triad’s day services coordinator.
The number has jumped from 121 to 206 just since January, with the announcement of the Solid Waste Accommodation Program (SWAP), a collaboration between Republic, the Lucas County Commissioners and the Toledo-Lucas County Commission on Disabilities.
SWAP expanded and formalized the existing informal program, which Triad has handled since September 2010 when Toledo Area Ministries first approached them with the need. After Republic Services took over the city’s trash collection in 2011, Triad continued performing the service at no cost. Republic took over the job of screening requests in January.
In December, the Lucas County Commissioners amended the county’s contract with Republic to allow for up to $25,000 for SWAP services, which was expected to grow as word of the formalized program spread. Yet three months later, Republic seems content to continue letting Triad “donate” the service.
After the news conference when SWAP was announced in January, Paul Rasmusson, senior area manager for municipal services with Republic Services, told me the issue of reimbursement would be addressed at a later date, once they saw how many more requests came in.
“We’ve left it very wide open because we don’t know if we’re going to get much growth,” Rasmusson said at the time.
The January announcement led to a backlog of requests, Rasmusson said, leading to a delay in response time for both Republic and Triad, but the process has largely smoothed out now. However, the issue of reimbursement remains unresolved.
Republic serves about 95,500 homes in Toledo. Triad is currently serving 206 households, but Republic has 280 on its list of people who have requested assistance. The remainder are in the process of being screened and referred, Rasmusson said, adding that there are no plans to charge residents who need the service or increase fees to cover it.
Triad uses donations to pay worker wages, fuel, truck maintenance, insurance and other costs associated with the program. Harteis’ salary is paid by Medicaid reimbursements.
“We don’t make any money on the trash program. It’s not a cheap program to run, but we kept it going because there’s such a need for it,” Harteis said. “With the gas, we’re lucky to break even. We have the human service side, but at the same time we’re a business.”
Few of the companies that partner with Triad completely cover the cost of services rendered, but many offer partial reimbursement, Moore said. Republic does not, but does occasionally make donations to fundraisers, she said.
Garcia and Furney each work 12-14 hours per week, paid minimum wage. Harteis estimates he drives about 500 miles a week on their trash bin routes.
“It’s our profit we’re giving them since we’re not receiving any funds from the city, county or Republic — yet,” Moore said. “We’re hoping.”
On April 22, Rasmusson told me Republic is “not pursuing payment” from the county as this time. He seems to be waiting to see what happens with the contract, set to expire in August 2016. The county will decide by the end of this August whether to renew the contract with Republic or open it to bidding. Payment to Triad, according to Rasmusson, is “tied to a contract extension proposal.”
“As we’re finalizing or working toward that, we’ll also work toward reimbursing Triad for some of their growth and services beyond what their initial intent was,” he said. “I don’t know their real reasoning for why they did it as a contributed service to begin with.”
Republic’s options are reimbursing Triad now under the current contract, later under a new contract, having its own drivers take over the program — or some combination of the above.
“Somewhere in the middle of there is the actual answer,” Rasmusson said. “That’s what we’re trying to figure out. We definitely need to sit down and continue our conversations.”
Jim Shaw, the county sanitary engineer who directs the Solid Waste Management District, verified Republic has not yet billed the county any funds for the service.
In an April 21 email to Rasmusson, Triad owner Todd Frick inquired about Republic’s intentions for the program.
“Triad has the capacity to expand this program,” Frick wrote. “We have done our part keeping up with demand, have kept the program running at our own cost for nearly five years. Yet, we cannot seem to get an answer as to whether this will ever be funded. … We are really trying to create jobs and opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities, and dare I say that the individuals do a great job now.”
Frick said Rasmusson responded by implying he might opt to have Republic’s drivers take over the service, as the company does in Maumee, Sylvania and Monclova Township.
If drivers take over that role in Toledo, Garcia and Furney may well be out of jobs. That would be unfortunate, said Jason Umstot, director of employment services with the Ohio Provider Resource Association, the state trade association that represents about 150 providers of services to those with developmental disabilities across Ohio.
While it might be easier or more inexpensive for Republic employees to assist residents themselves, that doesn’t mean it’s the best solution.
“What we’ve found is there are little niche programs going on throughout the state that can be replicated and this is one that I think is phenomenal,” Umstot said. “By giving people an opportunity to work and at a competitive wage, there is a benefit not only to the individual but also to the community. In this case it’s even better because they are providing a service to people who need the service. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Garcia and Furney form a special, friendly connection with many of the residents they serve, Harteis said. Furney in particular notices abnormalities in household routines and worries about people.
“We had one lady, he said, ‘I hope nothing’s wrong with her. She hasn’t been putting her cans out.’ And she was gone,” Harteis said. “He’s very, very in tune with that kind of thing.”
“I don’t know what I’d do without them,” Toledoan Helen Holmes, 83, said. “I’ve tried to do the job myself and I just can’t. This Christmas I made them a little box of candy. I’m just blessed with their service.”
Toledoans in need of assistance can call Republic Services at (419) 936-2511. Applicants will be sent a request form after which a supervisor from Republic will visit their homes to determine customized solutions.
Anyone interested in helping Triad cover costs for the trash aid program can send a check to Triad Foundations, P.O. Box 1208, Maumee, OH 43537.
Sarah Ottney is Editor in Chief at Toledo Free Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: The version of this column published in print April 26 stated Triad is currently serving 185 households. This version has been updated to correct that Triad was serving 206 households as of April 24.