Cuts put elderly in jeopardy

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January 22, 2010 - 12:00 AM

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series of stories examining the impact of state budget cuts on public health agencies serving the Allen County area.

JoAnn Buche lives with constant fear she will be forced into a nursing home.
Buche, 74, is confined to a wheelchair because of an amputated leg and severe arthritis that makes using crutches impossible. She’s able to remain in her home because round-the-clock attendants see to her wellbeing.
Meticulous about personal cleanliness, Buche requests being helped to bathe every day. “If I don’t, you know I’m really sick,” she said.
The idea of being bathed only twice a week, “is unthinkable,” she said of the limited services of a nursing home.
The personal care attendants who help Buche with meal preparation, toileting needs, medications, transportation and housecleaning are secured through the Southeast Kansas Area Agency on Aging. The program that provides the services is the Home and Community Based Services and is funded by Medicaid.
But recent cuts have suspended many services that enable people like Buche to remain in their homes.

JOHN GREEN, executive director of the Chanute-based Agency on Aging, said “it’s tough” to keep his optimism intact.
“Surely we’ve seen the worst, or are getting near it,” he said of the state’s financial crisis.
It’s his job to see that the area’s elderly receive adequate care and nutrition through myriad programs including Meals on Wheels, home-based services and senior health insurance counseling. Yet due to recent cuts by the state, the needs of area seniors are going unmet.
Today the agency is operating at 2005 funding levels. For fiscal year 2009, which ended in September, the agency’s $3.5 million budget was slashed by $100,000.
Since the first of the year it has seen further cuts and suspension of certain services.
The agency has coped so far by reducing services, not replacing three recently vacated positions and freezing salaries for the last two years. Over the last four years SEKAAA employees have received one 3-percent raise. That was two years ago.
“We have a very dedicated staff,” Green said of his employees.
When he accepted the position of executive director five years ago, it was in addition to his position with the Older Kansas Employment Program — helping senior citizens find jobs.
EARLIER THIS MONTH, four services included in the HCBS waiver were “suspended indefinitely,” by the state. They are:
* Assistive technology — A service that pays for mobility devices such as wheelchairs or items such as lift chairs or bath benches as well as funding for remodeling to make a home handicap-accessible.
* Comprehensive support — For people who have Alzheimer’s or dementia and need in-house care to see they are safe and don’t wander off.
* Sleep/Cycle support — Overnight care that tends to clients’ needs during the night.
* Oral health — Helps pay for dentures or other dental health care.
Canceling these services not only endangers the elderly and handicapped, it forces them prematurely into nursing homes, Green said. And that is a much more expensive option for U.S. taxpayers, he noted.
“A person staying in their home receving our care costs about $1,200 a month, or $14,400 a year,” Green said. “Moving them into a nursing home costs about $3,000 a month — and that’s on Medicaid.” Private pay is closer to $4,000 a month, or almost $50,000 a year.
“Nursing home expenses spend down a family’s income to nothing, forcing the state to then pick up the tab,” Green said. “It’s a classic example of a short-term gain for a long-term loss.”

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