As Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell prepares to leave the Statehouse next week, he leaves a rich legacy of nearly 32 years as a senator, in his support of judicial reform, stronger ethics rules for elected officials and public accountability through better sunshine laws. But his remarkable accomplishments on behalf of the state's elderly in a comparatively short time as lieutenant governor must not be forgotten. His uplifting progress at the state's Office on Aging must continue.
Mr. McConnell took the job as lieutenant governor reluctantly, giving up his powerful leadership position in the Senate to fulfill the constitutionally mandated line of succession when the office was vacated by Lt. Gov. Ken Ard in an ethics scandal.
But once he took over, he focused his considerable energies on the state of the elderly in South Carolina. And he found it severely wanting, following a months-long statewide tour of nursing homes, senior citizen centers and local agencies that deal with the issues faced by the state's elderly residents.
There are myriad problems related to aging and the diminishing financial resources of the elderly, but Mr. McConnell found one common theme in search of a solution. Elderly residents want to stay in their homes as long as possible. The lieutenant governor has made important strides to accommodate that goal.
The solution requires regulatory reform, a commitment to widely disseminate information about programs that benefit seniors, and the support of the private sector, churches and charities. And it requires additional public money.
Lt. Gov. McConnell has cited the necessity of increased state funding for the Office on Aging and the programs it supports, noting that home-based health care actually produces major cost savings to state government.
In an address to the General Assembly in March, Lt. Gov. McConnell estimated that essential home-health care costs the state about $1,400 a year per individual, while the state's share of the Medicaid expense of providing a nursing home bed is currently $52,000.
Accelerated efforts on behalf of home health care for some 5,600 South Carolinians are saving an estimated $250 million a year. And the people served are far happier staying at home than if they were institutionalized.
That's why it's important for the Legislature to override a gubernatorial veto of $2 million budgeted for home and community based services for the Office on Aging.
Meanwhile, the findings of the lieutenant governor's "Face of Aging" tour should continue to inform state officials about the importance of meeting the needs of elderly South Carolinians. The state must be ready to deal with the increasing number of elderly residents in future years.
Citing Census estimates, Mr. McConnell says the number is expected to double to two million in 15 years. "The issue of aging is the central public health challenge of our lifetime," he says.
As he takes over as College of Charleston president next month, Mr. McConnell will have to pass the torch on the aging issue.
Addressing the problem will require more state assets, but more importantly, the cost-effective and compassionate approach advanced by Mr. McConnell. The state's home health-care program is growing to meet a demonstrable need, and it shouldn't be shortchanged. Doing so would be a false economy.
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