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‘Home First’ bill would help keep seniors out of nursing homes

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

ARCHDIOCESE — A bill is being introduced this month in the Ohio legislature that would help help keep older and disabled adults out of nursing homes until such a time that skilled care is needed.

The legislation, to be introduced by Ohio Sen. John Carey (R-Wellston), and Sen. Dale Miller (D-Cleveland), would expand an existing Ohio law called Home First, which allows low-income persons in nursing homes to return to their own home if they are physically able and bypass the waiting list for in-home care services.

The expansion would allow low-income seniors or disabled people already living in their own homes to remain there and to also bypass the waiting list for those services.

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Suzanne Burke (Courtesy photo)

“This would help seniors, but it also affects every taxpayer who is supporting Ohio’s outdated long-term care system,” said Suzanne Burke, CEO of Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio. “As our population ages, we will not be able to sustain a system that is so unnecessarily costly. We need more people to raise their voices for change.”

There are now only 680 openings each month statewide for Ohio’s Medicaid in-home and assisted living programs, down by 25 percent since July because of state budget cuts. On Dec. 1, the openings will drop to 500 a month because of the state budget.

In southwestern Ohio, the wait for such services is about a month. Because many people already in their own homes can’t wait for care, they have no choice but to move to a nursing facility.

The new bill would expand Home First to include people at high risk of entering a nursing home. This would include people being discharged from hospitals; medically fragile seniors; those in unsafe living conditions; and those who have spent down their assets while in assisted living.

Kathleen Donnellan, executive director of Catholic Charities SouthWestern Ohio, said she hasn’t seen the legislation but would support its goal.

“Seniors deserve to have a range of choices available to them,” she said. “If people want to stay in their own homes, that’s an option and a service that’s available to them.”

The local Catholic Church accommodates both seniors who need a nursing facility and those who are cared for at home. Among the programs operated by Catholic Charities is one that assists caregivers.

“We operate a care (phone) line,” she said. “We have support groups where (caregivers) come in small groups and talk about the challenges they face.”

Still, there are times when a nursing facility may be necessary, particularly when dealing with those suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia.

“Every family’s needs are different,” Donnellan said. “Every person’s needs are different.”

“We encourage people to contact their state legislators and ask them to co-sponsor or support expanded Home First,” Burke said. “Long-term, Ohio needs reform beyond this bill, but at least it would bring relief to taxpayers and compassion to seniors who should be allowed the choice to remain in their homes with independence and dignity.”

To learn more, including how to contact legislators on this issue, visit Council on Aging’s website, www.help4seniors.org. Click on programs and services, and then on advocacy.

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