COLUMBIA - South Carolina faces a "gray tsunami" as its residents age and the state has fewer resources to deal with the enormity of problems that it will face as a result of an older population, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell told the General Assembly on Wednesday.
The address was perhaps McConnell's last major speech as an elected official, after he was named president of the College of Charleston on Saturday.
As lieutenant governor, McConnell oversees the Office on Aging, which runs senior programs and helps provide meals and other services for aging seniors. McConnell, who served in the S.C. Senate for nearly 32 years, said he hopes to use his final months in office to bolster the Office on Aging and impress its importance on the General Assembly.
"The time has come for us to address aging," McConnell told members of the S.C. House and Senate. "It is the central public health challenge of our lifetime."
McConnell also said state rules that regulate nursing homes and adult day cares often cause more problems than they solve. State regulators have stepped in to halt nursing homes from expanding or offering better service because of strict regulators who don't use common sense, he said. On the other hand, the state has also failed to step in when severe problems at elder care facilities were discovered.
About 45 percent of South Carolina's population will be 50 or older in 2030, McConnell said. Many struggle with debilitating illness or physical problems, including Alzheimer's. In a tour around the state, McConnell said he was touched by what he saw and heard from those who struggle to stay in their homes and keep up with basic healthcare and payments.
McConnell said the state's elderly programs save the state millions in Medicaid dollars and are a last resort for some of the state's most desperate elderly population. Medicaid beds cost the state and federal government millions. The state should focus on ensuring that seniors can stay in their homes if they are able, McConnell said.
In an interview, McConnell said he is pushing for $4.7 million in additional funding for the Office on Aging this year to help cut down on a waiting list for state services and make up for federal cuts. "I'll be scraping here for some more," he said.
McConnell also reiterated that he is unsure whether he will step down as lieutenant governor before taking the job at the College of Charleston. Sen. John Courson, R-Columbia, is next in line for lieutenant governor. He could take over the role if McConnell steps down, but he has said that he will not do so and wants to keep his Senate seat and top leadership spot.
Courson has suggested that McConnell could serve temporarily as both president of College of Charleston and lieutenant governor.
"I don't know at this point," McConnell said of whether he would serve in both roles.
McConnell said he was still trying to gain an understanding of whether holding both positions would cause any conflict. He is expected to start at the college around July 1.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.