By Vicki Vaughn Johnson
The state needs to expand two programs that have one important mission: allowing older Georgians to stay in their homes and out of much more costly nursing homes for as long as possible.
One of these programs provides services such as help with bathing and transportation to doctor’s appointments and is stretched to the limit. Home and Community Based Services has a waiting list that fluctuates and, at its 2018 peak, included 7,000 seniors.
The demand is only expected to grow with the looming “silver tsunami,” in which the 65-and-older population is forecast to double.
We at the Georgia Council on Aging have been making the case to lawmakers this year for expanding HCBS and putting more money into the state’s 21 Aging and Disability Resource Connections for these reasons:
1. These programs help seniors, the vast majority of whom want to remain in their homes and deserve that chance.
2. These services are by far the best bang for the buck. Studies have shown that home- and community-based care is about one-tenth the cost of nursing home care.
For the state fiscal year that starts July 1, we requested an extra $10 million for HCBS and $4 million more for the ADRCs.
The ADRCs provide potentially game-changing referrals and information to older Georgians, such as Don Burt of Gainesville.
The 83-year-old retired school principal found peace of mind through adaptive technology, a popular resource promoted by the ADRCs.
Burt, who is widowed and lives on his own, has trouble with balance due to neuropathy in his feet and struggles at times getting out of his recliner.
He worried: Who would know if he fell and couldn’t get up?
Staff at the local agency on aging worked with Burt to find a solution. Burt bought an Amazon Echo, and the staff programmed it to alert one of his neighbors in an emergency.
Thousands of Georgia seniors have similar stories of how this seemingly small help from the state has made a big difference in their lives or the lives of their loved ones.
Georgia lawmakers are currently reviewing newly elected Gov. Brian Kemp’s budget proposal. It includes an extra $1,898,000 for HCBS and an extra $338,802 for the ADRCs.
Committed to addressing the needs of seniors, the Georgia House increased funding for the popular Meals on Wheels program by $460,277 to $1.4 million for 2020.
We are grateful for every additional dollar committed to these programs for seniors, and aging providers across the state will put the money to good use.
That’s been our track record. In fiscal year 2017, Gov. Nathan Deal put more money into HCBS, and, with it, aging providers across the state were able to make a sizable dent in a waiting list of about 12,000 seniors.
Under the governor’s budget recommendation, we expect to be able to help 1,000 people on HCBS waiting lists. People such as Raghubir and Surinder Singh, residents of Georgia for more than 40 years.
Raghubir, 75, has major shoulder problems and is caregiver for Surinder. The 82-year-old has heart, lung and kidney conditions, as well as diabetes.
The two want to stay in their home. They see HCBS as a potential lifeline since it could mean help with bathing, dressing, meals, housekeeping, home health services or respite for caregivers.
About 34,000 Georgians received help through HCBS in Fiscal Year 2017, up about 10 percent from the previous year.
The ADRCs have seen a similar increase in demand. The centers helped 107,287 seniors in fiscal year 2018, up from 95,000 in the previous year.
More and more seniors are reaching out for help, and we don’t see any signs of that trend reversing.
In the 10-county metro Atlanta area, 10. 8 percent of the population was 65 and older in 2015. By 2040, that age group will make up 20.1 percent of the region’s population, according to Atlanta Regional Commission forecasts.
Vicki Vaughn Johnson is chair of the Georgia Council on Aging and has been a member of the council since her appointment by House Speaker David Ralston in 2010. She also serves on the state Alzheimer’s and Related Dementias Advisory Council.