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State officials discuss issues facing elderly

TERESA NOWAKOWSKI | Thursday, April 8, 2004

A panel of state government officials discussed issues facing the elderly during a community discussion at Saint Mary’s Wednesday.The panel consisted of Les Fox, president and CEO of REAL Services and Area Two Agency on Aging, Mike Cecil, ombudsman for REAL Services, John Broden, an Indiana state senator, JoAnn Burke, a member of the governor’s CHOICE board, Ryan Dvorak, a state representative and Penny Titus, an employee in congressman Chris Chocola’s office.The panel focused on issues facing the elderly, including nursing home care against home and community-based care, Medicare, the idea of raising the retirement age and prescription drugs.Nursing home care and home-based care are one of the issues that immediately affect the elderly in the state of Indiana, the panel said.”Most of the time family members do not want to put a person in a nursing home,” Cecil said.The problem for most families is the cost of in-home care. Those who currently want to stay at home may not qualify for government assistance to receive proper funding to remain in their houses, while they do qualify if they are institutionalized. The Senate Enrolled Act 493, which instituted the CHOICE program. It was passed to begin to remedy this situation. This act mandates the state of Indiana give the elderly the choice of either home and community-based care or nursing home care.Even though this bill was passed, some people remain concerned, the panel said. The funding for this program is almost non-existent, and because of that, change has happened very slowly.”It has not resulted in dramatic change,” Broden said. “People think perhaps we oversold the bill.” But this is not the case according to Broden.”[Indiana] is in a very difficult fiscal situation,” he said.The CHOICE program started in the late ’80s and early ’90s and after that has stagnated. Government officials are still looking for ways, through private grants or federal funds, in which they can get the program up and running again. Based on compiled statistics from REAL services, Inc., the CHOICE program allows for an average savings of $77,000 per month, $914,000 per year for 66 people exhibiting different levels of need.”[This program has been stunted by the fact] that in the state of Indiana, there is a very strong lobby in the nursing home industry, and for whatever reason, we got behind the curve,” Burke said.The community and panelists agreed on the need for change within the system.”Change is always good,” Titus said.Change, however, won’t be sufficient if it is merely from the legislation, they said. “We don’t think of aging people as treasures, which they are,” said Ken Peters, a member of the community who attended the panel discussion.