Elder care organizations set legislative priorities

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Older Iowans Legislature, a statewide senior advocacy group, seek restored funding for the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Office and an increase in funding for LifeLong Links and senior nutrition from the Iowa General Assembly during the 2018 session.

State organization, the Area Agencies on Aging, represented locally by Elderbridge Agency on Aging, also set legislative priorities.

"Demand is increasing, need is increasing and budgets are decreasing," said Shelly Sindt, Elderbridge Agency on Aging CEO. "We know that there is not any more money. Our message is just don't cut us anymore. Our main priority is finding us funding in other places."

Both agencies are proposing transferring a percentage of gambling revenue toward older adult services. Sindt said she is seeking to carve out funding from gambling revenue similar to what the state did for the Veteran's Administration by allowing a couple of veteran specific lottery tickets to be sold.

"We are looking at all different sources of possible revenue," said Helene Magee, Older Iowans Legislature chairperson. "We are looking to help maintain the services offered at this time. People that are 65 or over are the most rapidly growing segment of Iowa's population. Therefore, as people age, they need more services. We fully realize that the state is in a tight budget situation. We also know that we need to take care of our citizens, but there needs to be services."

The Long-Term Care Ombudsman Office is a volunteer program that advocates for nursing home residents who have problems with their care.

"The Ombudsman Office has been cut and we are asking it be restored to $40,000 for the volunteer program to solicit volunteers and give them support," Magee said." Then we are asking for $60,000 to cover travel money. The source for this funding would be raising licensing fees for nursing homes."

Funding for LifeLong Links is another area of agreement between the organizations. LifeLong Links is a program run through the six Agencies on Aging through the state. In Clay County, LifeLong Links is run through Elderbridge Agency on Aging, providing information to seniors and disability clients about programs available to them.

"(LifeLong Links is) one phone number that anyone can call to access information and assistance," Sindt said. "We have our own LifeLong Links staff persons, we will provide that information assistance linkage to other services and help them access benefits that they might be eligible for. If we don't have a single source that people can go to, it can be complicated and if it is complicated, people are going to give up."

Originally, LifeLong Links was started without funds from the state. The state has since invested $1 million for LifeLong Links statewide, but last year that amount was cut by 25 percent. The cost for running the statewide network already exceeds what has been appropriated for it.

"What we are asking the legislators is you need to see the value to the whole population of Iowa to having resources and a disability center access point," Sindt said. "Someone who is 35 years old with a mental health disability, we will call and make sure we get them to the right place. I believe aging and disability access points are the future. We have to focus there. We need the government to support that."

Sindt said Elderbridge is focused on maintaining all of its service, but warned there will be wait list.

"Here's our hope, our hope is that we do not have to cut any services, but we will have to reduce funding for the services," Sindt said. "We are going to have a waiting list for the services because we will just not have the funds to provide all the services needed. We have established a statewide waiting list protocol. We are trying not to eliminate any services, but we are going to have to limit our target. That's why we started the Elderbridge Alliance, for those individuals who can afford to pay for services, we want them to pay for it. In order for us to use our funding, that is decreasing, to service those most in need and limit the need for a waiting list."

The Older Iowans Legislature is also seeking funding for transportation, especially in the rural parts of the states.

"It goes back to rural areas," Magee said. "It is best and cheapest to keep people in their homes as long as they can. When a person gets to the point they can no longer drive, they depend on the transportation services or a good samaritan to give them a ride. Older Iowans in small towns need transportation services. People need help because they don't always have family close by."

Magee said following federal cuts to the Meals on Wheels program, it is especially important for the state to support senior nutrition programs. For some seniors, it may be the only human interaction they have in a day.

Magee said finding facilities for aging sexual predators is one of Older Iowans Legislature's main priorities. She hopes the General Assembly will explore alternatives for keeping sexual offenders out of nursing homes.

"These facilities could be used to create a place that would be used to house these sex offenders who are getting older and in need of nursing care," Magee said. "Many nursing homes are refusing to accept them, so what do you do with them and where do they go? I think the state is really aware of this problem. The state needs to determine how they are going to handle it. If we can get something done about sexual predators, I think that this year is a success because it is a very serious issue."

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