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Krolicki’s plan could put senior programs up in smoke

Janice Ayres
Special to the Appeal

What will happen to the nearly 35,000 low-income and disabled seniors who have been kept at home for the past eight years by the 63 agencies funded from the Tobacco Settlement funds if Lt. Governor Brian Krolicki persuades Gov. Gibbons and the Legislature to embrace his “quick-fix payday loan” package to help bail out the state from its current budget woes? There isn’t enough state money for institutionalization at an average of $62,500 per year per senior, or enough beds available in rest homes if funds were available, so where do they go? Nowhere!

Last year, Nevada social service agencies provided nearly 371,000 hours of needed services to assist 35,000 seniors to remain independent and at home for just $4.5 million dollars of Tobacco Settlement money. However, using this as matching funds, these agencies were able to leverage it into at least $12 million in federal dollars. These agencies provided transportation, respite services, adult day care (including Alzheimer’s), caregiver support, case management, elder protective services, home companions, medical equipment, emergency services, food pantry, geriatric health and wellness (including dental services), home services, homemakers, information assistance and advocacy, legal services, Lifeline (medical alert system), medical nutrition therapy (special meals), podiatry, representative pay, volunteer care and much more.

As one example, our RSVP program eight years ago identified 500 seniors at high risk of being institutionalized because of living alone in isolated rural areas and afraid of falling or becoming ill with no way to alert anyone. We placed them on Lifeline (a medical alert program) and have kept them at home for those eight years at a cost of $880,000 (Tobacco funds), whereas if they had been institutionalized (as indigents) the cost to the state would have been $163 million dollars! If the Independent Living Grants go, so do all these services and RSVP will have to notify 500 Lifeline clients that they will no longer be covered.

Census data and analysts’ projections clearly depict an unprecedented population growth of senior Nevadans and why the Independent Living Grants are so essential. From 1990 to 2000, the number of seniors in Nevada age 65-plus increased by 72 percent, while the increase nationwide was only 12 percent. The population of seniors age 85-plus increased by 128 percent versus 38 percent nationwide. A number of reports suggest that this growth will continue to be significant for many years to come. USA Today analysts reviewed census data and in 2007 reported that Nevada will have a 264 percent increase in persons age 65 and older between 2000 and 2030, mostly because of the aging of the huge Baby Boomer generation.

Lt. Gov. Krolicki has stated he will have to find the money elsewhere to fund the public health programs, but added “there is time for that.” That is a pretty nebulous statement, as where exactly is “elsewhere,” when the governor and his staff are cutting social services programs left and right? The explanation given to me by the Lt. Governor is that he would ask that $4.5 million be set aside out of the $600 million buy-out of tobacco money for the social service programs for a year or two, and then get it from the general fund afterward, since the economy would be improved. What kind of guarantee is that? You don’t need to be a mathematical genius to figure out why you would give up a 25 year funding stream of $1.2 billion dollars (legislated in 1999) for a pay day loan of $600 million as a quick fix for the state budget for 2009-2010.

A further concern is that the loss of the Tobacco Funds would seriously impact the State Division for Aging Services’ federal grants for seniors. For example, a 25 percent match is required for a million federal dollars ($250,000 for $1 million dollars) to assist seniors. Without the tobacco funds this million dollars would be lost to Nevada. Likewise the Alzheimer’s Disease Demonstration grants. A half million dollars of tobacco funds brings in $3 million dollars in federal funding. Nevada has one of the highest rates of Alzheimer’s patients.

We have had a great Nevada Division for Aging Services working with 63 dedicated social service agencies, who over the past eight years have kept thousands of seniors independent and in their own homes for a fraction of the cost to the state to institutionalize these seniors who have characterized going into an institution as more frightening than death.

This has been a win-win situation for Nevada and the seniors who wish to live out their lives in dignity and in their own homes. Let us not jeopardize these great programs for a ‘quick-fix payday loan,’ which in the long run will be more costly to the state than ever if all these agencies and their services go away for the thousands of seniors and their families. If you support our seniors in this, send a message to this effect to the Governor and your Legislators.

• Janice Ayres is executive director and CEO of Nevada Rural Counties RSVP Program