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Melanie Keller, President of Meritan, welcomes Mayor A. C. Wharton to the Memphis Rotary Breakfast Club. Melanie is President of this organization.


Seniors Need Jobs

Meritan delivers job training, computer skills and help interviewing

By WREG, News Channel 3

The future isn’t what many older Americans expected it to be, not since the economy took a nose dive. Their savings are depleted, which for many means one of two things, either they can’t retire yet, or those who have, need to go back to work. Lee Warren with Meritan helps them compete in a job market where so many are struggling to find work. He’s here with Gloria Chandler.

Watch the full interview at



Home Alone

Access to in-home health services declines as need rises

By Aisling Maki

For many senior citizens, access to homemaker services – such as housekeeping and grocery shopping – enables them to continue living in the comfort of their own homes for as long as possible.

LaQuita Dawson of Meritan takes a blood pressure reading at the home of patient Howard Green. Green receives home care 7 days a week, 12 hours a day.

(Photo: Lance Murphey)

Melanie Keller, executive vice president of Meritan – a Memphis-based nonprofit that provides a vast array of services for seniors – said as little as two two-hour visits each week can mean the difference between placing a senior in a hospital or nursing facility.

“It makes good, common economic sense to invest in some of these in-home services,” she said. “I would even classify meal delivery and homemaker services as preventative. If you have good nutrition and a clean home environment, then your health status is going to be better overall.”

For some seniors, a home health worker may be the only person with whom they interact regularly, and that companionship can help prevent depression, which has detrimental health effects.

The need for homemaker services continues to grow, with the first of the nation’s 70-million strong baby boomers turning 65 last year.

“We’re getting ready to get inundated with people who need those services,” Keller said.

But despite the aging population, home health care continues to see cuts at both the state and federal level. Keller said Medicare only provides skilled services, such as nursing and occupational therapy, and does not reimburse for convalescent care.

“Just the federal cuts in home care since 2008 have been about 16 percent,” said Keller, who also serves on the board of the Tennessee Association for Home Care, a statewide nonprofit. “Home health is about 4 percent of Medicare spending, yet it’s taking 10 percent of the cuts in Medicare, so it’s very disproportionate.”

According to TAHC, TennCare – whose Choices program provides non-medical long-term care services for the elderly and disabled – last July implemented a 4.25 percent cut for home health.

“The plan in the budget is to eliminate the homemaker part as a stand-alone benefit,” Keller said. “If the person needs homemaker services, they would blend that with the personal care. But homemaker services by themselves – that environmental support – would completely go away.”

In addition to the reduction of homemaker services, other services under the TennCare Choices program scheduled for rate reductions are personal response systems and home delivered meals.

Personal response systems provide Choices clients with immediate access to a call center for help in emergency situations, and the rate change will reduce the number of companies able to provide the service to Choices clients.

The rate reductions for home delivered meals will also reduce the number of organizations able to provide that service to Choices clients. Keller said budget cuts include a 19 percent reduction in frozen meals and 5.8 reduction in hot meals delivered to client homes.

“I know it’s going to affect this area, and have an even greater impact on the rural areas because it’s a little more difficult to provide services in a rural area when you’re talking about time and travel,” she said.

More home health cuts came in January, after the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services refused to pay states for an error in payments, resulting in an additional 4.25 percent cut in home health.

“There will never be enough public funding,” said Kathryn Coulter, chief development officer for the Aging Commission of the Mid-South, which contracts with various home health agencies for nonmedical services. “We certainly have lots of private pay providers for home care, so if individuals have the resources, there are services in the community that can be purchased. Unfortunately, I don’t think there will ever be enough public money to provide the care for everyone who needs it.”

There is a sliver of good news on the horizon. A bill by state Sen. Mark Norris and Rep. Gerald McCormick is currently moving through the General Assembly to restore close to 2 percent of the January cuts to TennCare home health reimbursement.

Keller said she regularly meets people facing difficult decisions, including leaving their jobs to care for aging family members.

“And then you have people leaving the workforce,” she said. “Personal care out of pocket, through a reliable agency, is about $16 an hour at least four hours a day. Most people can’t afford it. And if you have people staying at home, that ultimately impacts the economy.”

Keller said that from an economic standpoint, it simply makes more sense to keep seniors out of hospitals and costly nursing home facilities, and living in their own home environment for as long as possible.



Meritan Focuses on Awareness, Collaboration

By Aisling Maki, Memphis Daily News

Meritan, a private nonprofit that provides a vast array of services for seniors, foster children and developmentally disabled and visually impaired individuals in four states, is the largest social services agency in Memphis, second only to Youth Villages.

Despite Meritan’s reach, and its name in large letters atop its headquarters at 4700 Poplar Ave., many people – and even other organizations in the community – either aren’t aware Meritan exists or are unclear about the kinds of services it provides.

“People don’t know that we provide things like homemaker services for people with HIV and AIDS,”said Melanie Keller, who recently stepped into her new role as Meritan’s executive vice president. “They don’t know that we have senior exercise programs and how important that is. There are a lot of lives that we touch, so it’s important that people know what a great organization this is and about all the things that we do that otherwise might fall through the cracks.”

Keller, a registered nurse with a master’s degree in health care administration, served as Meritan’s Home Health Services director for more than five years before stepping into her new role following the retirement of David Poteat, who served as the organization’s executive vice president for nearly three decades.

Under Keller’s guidance, Meritan’s Home Health Services began providing more skilled services by hiring additional staff, including nurses and therapists, and generating more than $3.5 million in home health revenue.

“I’ve got the clinical-financial mix, so it really worked well for what they wanted to do here, which was get into more skilled services and more health care delivery,” Keller said. “Before that it was predominantly social services.”

Meritan was founded in 1961 as Senior Services, but in 2007 changed its name to Meritan to reflect its growing menu of services that not only included seniors, but the blind, developmentally disabled, foster children with medical needs and other fragile, underserved populations.

Meritan’s services include things such as personal care services, including bathing and meal preparation, independent-living skills for individuals with traumatic brain injuries, and employment retraining for seniors, many whom have found themselves having to re-enter the workforce in these tough economic times.

The organization also provides much-needed respite care to family caregivers whose own mental and physical health often suffers.

“We’re trying to fill in those gaps that not everybody’s willing to do or can do,” Keller said. “The goal in all of our programs, whether it’s the homemaker services or senior employment or the children, the core of it ultimately is to maximize people’s independence and to keep them at home, in the community and as independent as possible.”

The organization recently hired about 60 new nurses who will provide supported living services that include nursing and therapy for developmentally delayed individuals in Tennessee, and plans to soon implement a similar initiative in Georgia.

The reimbursement involved in those services is low, but Meritan’s diversification of services is what allows the organization to continue to expand its much-needed programs.

Brand identity and educating the public about what Meritan does is top priority for Keller, who says services like Meritan’s are increasingly vital in keeping fragile members of society living independently and as part of the community.

She says that despite the growing needs of an aging population, home health care continues to be targeted for state and federal cuts.

Another priority for Keller is community collaboration – developing strategic partnerships with other community organizations to help their clients acquire the resources they need – a vital key to success for nonprofits in a climate of decreased grants and giving.

“That’s a big thing; working with other organizations and how we can get our name and our mission out in the community so people understand what we really do and the value we add to the community,” she said. “That’s a key component over the next year.”



Planning has begun for the 2012 Midnight Classic Bike Tour in August. We're looking for ideas to make it bigger and better.  Suggestions? Let us know -



Meritan's Annual Report is now available online on the Reference Materials page. It was a pretty good year for a 50th Anniversary. The report is a single page so it is easy to view or print.



2011 Silver Bells was able to deliver gifts to everyone on its list.  We're looking forward to next year.


Meritan's 12th Annual Midnight Classic Bike Tour was a huge success this year, with more than 1,600 riders. Wow, what a night, thanks to everyone who participated.



  • Council on Accreditation Accredited State Licensed/ Bonded
  • Meritan is a United Way partner agency We are a United Way partner agency