Soaring S.C. senior ranks require fair, efficient changes

Glenn McConnell

BY GLENN McCONNELL As your new lieutenant governor, I am our state’s chief advocate for one of the fastest growing senior populations in the nation. South Carolina’s senior population has seen a 319 percent increase in the last 40 years, and the population 60 years and over is projected to increase by nearly 160 percent by the year 2030, with over 1.3 million Baby Boomers set to retire in South Carolina.

Even with a growing senior population, the lieutenant governor’s Office on Aging only serves about 3 percent of the state’s aging population, though South Carolina ranks fourth highest for the number of seniors at risk for hunger.

The lieutenant governor’s Office on Aging had 27,880 clients in Fiscal Year 2010-11 and a waiting list of over 8,522 seniors who needed our services, which simply allow seniors to remain in their homes. In addition to providing congregate and home-delivered meals, we provide transportation, homemaker services, legal assistance, adult day care services, respite and disease prevention, health promotion and physical fitness, and respite services for caregivers to name just a few.

Our office works with local, independently funded organizations to supplement the services they provide, thereby eliminating any duplication of services. Instead, our services complement the services already provided to a senior. These services are designed to allow seniors to remain home safely and independently and to reduce the strain on nursing homes and hospitals.

Home and community-based services are the most cost-effective option for caring for our seniors.

To put it in perspective, we spend, on average, $1,000 per client per year on our home and community-based services, while it costs Medicaid nearly $46,000 to house a person in a nursing home, not to mention the high costs of emergency room visits. As the number of nursing home beds declines annually, the demand for home and community-based services increases since many senior adults prefer to safely “age in place” in their homes.

Additionally, we provide services such as: Aging and Disability Resource Centers; family caregiver support programs; insurance counseling and referral; the long-term care ombudsman program, which investigates complaints and advocates for residents’ rights in nursing homes, assisted living, and residential care facilities; and our Alzheimer’s Resource Coordination Centers, which is a subject of particular importance to me, as I, like so many others, have experienced its effects firsthand. As Nancy Reagan said, Alzheimer’s is “the long goodbye,” and I can personally attest to how taxing it is on the victim’s family.

Over 80,000 South Carolinians have Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder. This is a 19 percent increase from 2000. In 2011, South Carolina had over 283,000 caregivers for people with Alzheimer’s disease or a related disorder. This represents 322,853,918 hours of unpaid care giving in South Carolina alone.

Our Alzheimer’s Resource Coordination Centers aid these individuals by assisting communities and organizations in addressing the problems of Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders through funding for respite and education programs for individuals with the disease, their families, and caregivers. Offering caregivers a break from their chores is important to maintaining quality of care and to preserving a quality of life for victims and their families.

At a time when state revenues have diminished, the Office on Aging has consistently met the challenge of providing services to the increasing senior population, and we will continue to advocate for and proudly serve our aging population. In these times of declining revenues, it is important to work smarter to get bigger results from available dollars.

Our home-based programs make sense. We can pay less on the front end by comfortably keeping seniors in their homes, or we can pay more on the back end in terms of paying for assisted living, nursing homes, and hospitalization.

One way or another, we, as taxpayers, will pay the costs, but using a little creativity, the Office on Aging’s innovative and efficient programs will lessen the burden on taxpayers over the long haul.

Glenn McConnell, a Republican, is South Carolina’s lieutenant governor. He previously served for more than 31 years in the S.C. Senate, including more than a decade as Senate president pro tem. Reach him at ltgovernor@scstatehouse.gov or contactthe Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging at 1-800-868-9095.