Help seniors age at home

  • Posted: Sunday, June 30, 2013 12:01 a.m.

Owning your own home is a big part of the American Dream. So is staying in it after you get old.

So says Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who has concentrated his energies on the problems of the elderly since he unexpectedly became lieutenant governor last year. In his “Face of Aging” tour, he has crisscrossed the state studying their problems and developing ideas to solve them.

As head of the state’s Office of Aging, Lt. Gov. McConnell now has informed views about both problems and potential solutions. And thanks to the Legislature, he has a significant infusion of funding to advance a program aimed at ensuring what he calls “the American Dream of being able to stay in your own home.”

The Legislature included additional budgetary support for home and community based services and for respite care. The extra state funding will offset $1.6 million in federal sequester cuts, while providing additional support for keeping elderly residents, and disabled adults, in their homes.

A $3 million allocation for respite care required the House to override a gubernatorial veto.

Gov. Nikki Haley objected to an allocation to “launch another health care program.” The House overrode her veto by an overwhelming 104-13 margin on Wednesday.

Home-based services assist the elderly with meals, transportation, access to medical care and minor home maintenance expenses. Respite care gives those family caregivers who form the bulwark of home health care a break, through adult day care and related aid. It has heretofore been sustained solely by federal funding, Mr. McConnell says.

Respite care benefits both the homebound and their caregivers. If caregivers give up because they can’t get relief from their sometimes overwhelming duties, the people they have helped keep at home end up in a nursing home. “It’s a budget buster,” Lt. Gov. McConnell says. “We don’t have enough nursing home beds.”

Elderly residents can remain in their homes at an average cost to the state of $1,400 per year in assistance, he says. Compared to the $52,000 expense of a Medicaid-paid nursing home bed, it’s a bargain.

Moreover, at-home assistance can keep middle-class residents from seeing their assets quickly consumed when circumstances force them to move into an assisted living facility or nursing home. And after that, Medicaid pays.

Mr. McConnell has learned firsthand about the needs and aspirations of elderly citizens by meeting with thousands of them on his Face of Aging tour. The experience has clearly made him a man with a mission.

But he is approaching at-home programs with close attention to cost and accountability, providing assistance where it is most needed, and eliminating duplication with other programs, public or private. His work is also informed by university research on age-related issues.

The lieutenant governor has developed a plan that will benefit the growing numbers of elderly South Carolinians, while ultimately easing the financial burden on the state.

And the former Senate president pro tempore clearly has the legislative support to put it in practice.

It could fulfill the dream shared by elderly South Carolinians to retain control of their own lives, in their own homes, for the long-term.

It’s a goal worth pursuing.

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