As reported by The Boston Globe, July 13, 2008.
Advocates for Aging Emphasize Long-Term Care Planning
By Stephanie Reitz
HARTFORD, Conn.— A state agency to focus on Connecticut's senior citizens is slated to be revived in 2009, more than 15 years after it was eliminated in budget cuts.
The recent announcement by Governor M. Jodi Rell and state Senator Edith Prague to re-establish the state Department on Aging will place Connecticut among more than 20 states with agencies or cabinet-level entities that focus specifically on programs for aging residents.
But exactly what that will mean for the state's senior citizens remains unclear, some officials say. Details have yet to be worked out about which services will move from other state departments to the new agency.
"Our services are so fragmented right now because there's not one central office taking the lead on policy," said Prague, D-Columbia, a one-time Connecticut commissioner on aging before the agency was axed. "There's been nobody to pull it together in the executive branch. There's a lot of work to be done to help the elderly in our state and when we have a department that focuses on what they need, that work will get done."
Rell announced last week that the agency will be revived as of July 1, 2009 and will take over several Department of Social Services duties.
Responsibilities include a long-term care ombudsman, protective services for people aged 60 and older and a state-funded portion of a program helping eligible seniors stay at home with help instead of moving to nursing homes.
Representatives of the state's AARP chapter and the Connecticut Commission on Aging say they are urging state officials to make long-term care issues among the new agency's top goals. Long-term care is defined as services for people of all ages with chronic illnesses or disabilities.
Services range from help with basic activities such as shopping and house cleaning to around-the-clock, intensive medical care.
About 188,000 state residents currently need long-term care. That is expected to rise to at least 240,000 by 2030 as baby boomers age, according to a report by the Center on Aging at the University of Connecticut Health Center.
That report also says many residents want to age at home rather than moving to nursing facilities, but they underestimate the cost of services and overestimate how much insurance and government programs will cover.
About 32 percent of Connecticut's Medicaid spending pays for home and community-based services for eligible residents. The rest goes to paying to place them in institutional-style facilities such as nursing homes.
Advocates for aging and disabled residents say that balance needs to be reversed, a movement they hope officials at the new Department on Aging embrace.
They say some people who could stay at home with appropriate services end up in costly nursing facilities -- often unhappy and homesick -- only because that is what Medicaid will pay for.
"A system where people have more choice and they know how to get information about long-term care is a top priority," said Brenda Kelley, AARP's Connecticut state director.
She said many of its members have said they do not know where to turn for information and want a single point of contact rather than tracking down help with calls to numerous agencies, departments and organizations.
Julia Evans Starr, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Aging, said they hear similar concerns from state residents.
Like the AARP chapter, they want a system in which people are quickly and easily connected with whatever programs help with planning for long-term care and other needs.
Although her commission's focus is on senior citizens, she said they believe those programs should be easily available to all people based on their need and preferences, not on their age or dictated by what Medicaid will pay for.
The task force that studied logistics of re-establishing the Department on Aging also recommended setting up a toll-free hot line, offering more training for senior center workers and other programs.