Senior care slots proposed to rise

Nevada Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas,  right, speaks with Assembly Democrats Debbie Smith, left, and Sheila Leslie after a hearing Tuesday, April 21, 2009, at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev.  A joint Senate-Assembly budget panel decided to add back nearly 400 slots for elderly Nevadans who can qualify for government-funded home care and community programs, rejecting recommendations from Gov. Jim Gibbons to reduce those openings. (AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Cathleen Allison)

Nevada Assembly Speaker Barbara Buckley, D-Las Vegas, right, speaks with Assembly Democrats Debbie Smith, left, and Sheila Leslie after a hearing Tuesday, April 21, 2009, at the Legislature in Carson City, Nev. A joint Senate-Assembly budget panel decided to add back nearly 400 slots for elderly Nevadans who can qualify for government-funded home care and community programs, rejecting recommendations from Gov. Jim Gibbons to reduce those openings. (AP Photo/Nevada Appeal, Cathleen Allison)

A joint Senate-Assembly budget panel decided Tuesday to add back nearly 400 slots for elderly Nevadans who qualify for government-funded home care and community programs, rejecting recommendations from Gov. Jim Gibbons to reduce those openings.

Seven vacant social worker positions that the Republican governor wanted to eliminate also were preserved by the budget panel. The cost of the add-backs would require about $5.4 million in state general funds over the next two fiscal years.

With the changes, the home care and community programs would serve about 2,000 seniors. That's close to the level that existed prior to program cuts that began last year.

Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, the budget subcommittee chairwoman, said the lawmakers' decisions will help to keep many at-risk, low-income seniors out of nursing homes and save the state money that would otherwise might spent in covering the nursing home costs.

"We can't turn our backs on the elderly," Leslie said. "Even in tough times we have to make sure that we're providing for them along with the added benefit of decreased costs for the state and counties."

Aging Services Administrator Carol Sala called the panel's decision to increase home care and community programs "great for seniors," adding that it cuts down waiting lists.

"This puts the care in the home where most people would rather be cared for, rather than going into an institution," Sala said after the subcommittee hearing.

Sala also called the panel's decision to approve Gibbon's recommendation to add state and federal dollars to offset the loss of federal funding for the state ombudsman program for seniors "generous." Elder rights advocates make up most of the program's staff.

"They made a real statement that seniors are important, Sala said."

The panel also decided to reduce the salary of senior personal care aides by $1.50 per hour instead of nearly $3 an hour as proposed by Gibbons. The current hourly rate is about $18.50. Sala said the reduction may impact employers of such aides but added, "I'm glad that at least some of that rate was restored."

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