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Home and community-based services save money
By Robert P. Dean
The state legislature is currently reviewing the Governor’s proposed budget for state fiscal year 2013, which begins July 1, 2012. Elder Services is very concerned about the Governor’s proposed $1.5 million cut to state funding for the Elder Nutrition/Meals on Wheels program (state budget line item 9110-1900). This is a 24% cut to statewide funding for a program that is a lifeline for seniors. In addition to the hot, nutritious noontime meal, the program also provides a well-being check for frail homebound seniors. In many cases the Elder Services’ Meals on Wheels driver may be the only face-to-face contact a senior has that day. Senior group lunches prepared by Elder Services are also served at 14 sites throughout Berkshire County, providing much-needed social contact as well as nourishing meals.
We are also concerned by an instruction issued March 1 by the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, stating that the State Home Care Program will be closed to applicants who are assessed as being Priority Levels 3 or 4. This means that seniors with little or no help from friends or family who need help with grocery shopping or meal preparation will be placed on a waiting list for services. No senior should have to be on a waiting list to receive services for which he or she is eligible. Consider the effect of the proposed nutrition budget cut and the waiting list combined!
Additional funding for the State Home Care and the Enhanced Community Options (ECOP) Programs is needed to eliminate home care waiting lists. These programs provide an array of essential family-like services to seniors here in Berkshire County and throughout the Commonwealth. In home care should be the first resort for seniors in need of assistance. These services help seniors to continue to live in their own homes and communities, and to avoid or delay more costly nursing facility placements.
The state budget must provide adequate funding for both the Nutrition/Meals on Wheels program and for all State Home Care programs. The House is expected to make its budget recommendations this month, and then the proposed budget will go to the Senate, which will then make its recommendations.
As the House and Senate engage in their budget deliberations, it is important that the following programs receive sufficient funding. Each of these programs is an investment in our community and helps provide seniors a true choice as to where they will receive the long-term care services they need. These programs are far less costly than nursing facility placements and help delay or avoid such placements:
1. Elder Nutrition – Meals on Wheels (line item 9110-1900). This past year, Elder Services prepared more than a quarter-million meals in our Lanesboro kitchen. Our Meals on Wheels drivers traveled more than 200,000 miles to deliver over 200,000 meals and a well-being check to homebound seniors. The remaining meals were served to seniors at 14 lunch sites located throughout the county. Meals on Wheels is a lifeline for frail Berkshire seniors.
2. State Home Care and Care Management (line items 9110-1630 and 9110-1633). The State Home Care program provides an array of essential family-like services that are designed to promote independent living. Such services include in-home assistance with personal care needs such as dressing, bathing, and bathroom assistance, and with homemaking. Here in Berkshire County, we are serving more than 1,000 seniors each month in our State Home Care and ECOP programs (see #3 below). Since October 2009, statewide funding for the State Home Care and ECOP programs has been reduced by more than $9.2 million a year.
3. Enhanced Community Options Program - ECOP (line item 9110-1500). The ECOP program provides in-home care to frail seniors who are clinically eligible for nursing facility placement, yet only costs the state approximately one-third of what a nursing facility placement would cost. The ECOP program provides a higher or enhanced level of the in-home services provided by the State Home Care program (see #2 above) including assistance with personal care needs such as dressing, bathing, and bathroom assistance, and with homemaking. Sufficient funding must be available to meet the need for this cost-efficient program.
4. Protective Services (line item 9110-1636). This program provides a first line of defense for seniors who are suffering from abuse or neglect. Protective Services investigates and resolves reports of physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; caretaker neglect or self-neglect; and financial exploitation. The program deals with increasingly complex and volatile situations. Elder abuse reports have increased by 22.6% over the last four years. Vulnerable at-risk seniors must be protected.
5. Councils on Aging - COAs (line item 9110-9002). Services provided by Berkshire County Councils on Aging include information and referral, transportation, outreach, food distribution programs, health education and screenings, as well as fitness, social, and recreational opportunities. We support the Councils on Aging’s request to restore the “per senior” allocation to $7 per senior per year.
As the Commonwealth continues to struggle with limited state dollars, it is important to remember that home and community-based services are cost-effective and the most efficient use of those limited dollars. It will ultimately cost taxpayers more in the long run if seniors and individuals with disabilities in need of assistance receive more costly institutional care instead of home and community-based care.
Robert P. Dean is Executive Director of Elder Services of Berkshire County, Inc., the Aging Services Access Point and the Area Agency on Aging for all of Berkshire County. Each year, Elder Services serves over 10,000 seniors, caregivers, and individuals with disabilities, helping them to live with dignity and independence and achieve the highest possible quality of life.