McConnell hitting the road for tour of facilities for elderly
COLUMBIA — Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell launched a tour of facilities for the elderly in South Carolina this week, aiming to gather input and shine attention on the challenges a growing elderly population will present the state.
Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell will visit facilities for the elderly in the tri-county region and hold a public forum during a two-day swing Sept. 24-25. The schedule for the forum will be finalized as the stop approaches. Visit aging.sc.gov for tour information.
With each leg, McConnell will visit retirement homes, senior centers and assisted-living facilities and hold a public forum.
“We want the lieutenant governor basically to see A to Z,” said Tony Kester, director of the S.C. Office on Aging, which McConnell oversees.
The Charleston Republican’s first stop was a two-day visit that ended Wednesday to facilities in the Catawba region that includes Chester, Lancaster, York and Union counties.
He will visit the tri-county area this month.
“I’m on a learning curve with these visits,” said McConnell, the longtime former Senate president pro tempore. “I have an opportunity to see what skilled nursing is, what resource centers are, what a senior center does. Part of it is seeing and taking inventory of what resources and options are there. As you visit these facilities, you learn what options aren’t there.”
McConnell already has reached one key conclusion since ascending to his new role following the March resignation of former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard: The state must find a way to allow more seniors to remain in their homes instead of dramatically more-expensive aging facilities.
It costs about $1,000 to provide a year of home services and more than $40,000 in Medicaid funds for a year in a nursing home, according to the Office on Aging.
The issue will take on growing importance as the state’s population of 914,000 seniors — as of the 2010 census — expands dramatically.
That group is expected to double over the next three decades, making it all the more crucial for the state to invest in home- and community-based services and not “blow the top on expenses,” McConnell said.
Those services include things such as transportation or a hot meal.
McConnell said he visited with seniors Tuesday who can function in their homes, but rely on walkers or have another disability.
“In talking with these people, the message again and again was they want to stay home, they want to remain independent,” he said.
In a testament to the lasting respect for McConnell among his former colleagues, senators this year gave the Office on Aging an infusion of $5 million in the state budget for home- and community-based services.
The agency planned to use the money to whittle down an 8,000-member waiting list for the services.
But a conference committee of House and Senate members later reduced the total for the services to $2 million, a move McConnell attributes to a “lack of understanding.”
McConnell hopes to build support by presenting the information gathered on the tour to lawmakers.
“There need to be some louder voices saying ‘Look, this is a critical need and it has to be addressed, and it isn’t going away,’?” he said.
Reach Stephen Largen at 864-641-8172 and follow him on Twitter @stephenlargen.