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Janice Ayres: Legislative session could help seniors

Janice Ayres
For the Nevada Appeal

The 2011 Legislative Session is almost upon us, and education is all the political candidates talk about while ignoring the fact that a tsunami of aging is coming at Nevada at the speed of Mach I, and I don’t see a great deal of concern.

Let’s look at funding compared to services. It’s not pretty.

Nevada’s Aging and Disability Services Division serves older Nevadans who, because of age, poverty, social isolation, and cognitive and physical limitation, are among our most vulnerable citizens. There are few options available that allow them to live independently.

During the 2010-2011 budget period ADSD will receive less than 1 percent of the funds from all sources approved by the Legislature for all state government. This has not changed in 10 years while the senior population has tripled. Seniors over 60 constituted 13 percent of the state’s population in 2007. There were a total of 440,111 people over the age of 60 that year. Twenty percent of these seniors (88,022) had multiple social and health issues that place them at risk for institutionalization. In 2007, ADSD and its partner agencies reached 51,261 seniors over 60 with services to keep them at home and out of costly (for taxpayers) institutions.

It is difficult to draw similar comparisons to the disabled population served by ADSD because the programs are designed to serve those that don’t have other alternatives. In 2008, the disability programs served a total of 228 persons, with 276 waiting. ADSD at that time was serving 45 percent of the disability population with no other alternatives.

ADSD funding for community-based services comes from the state general fund, Older Americans Act, Medicaid waivers, Tobacco Settlement Funds, and Title XX Social Services Block Grant. Each of these are at great risk of future reductions. Medicaid waiver programs are optional services, which places them at risk of elimination in the 2011 Legislative session.

Reduction or elimination of the waiver programs would reduce essential services necessary to keep seniors living independently, and may carry with it additional issues relating to compliance with federal directives to serve at least 50 percent of the Medicaid population in home and community-based settings.

Approximately 51,000 seniors currently receive community-based care, for about $570 monthly, based on the $29 million ADSD 2010-2011 approved budget for community-based services. More Nevadans are receiving community-based and home care services such as RSVP at lower cost than in nursing homes, stretching the scarce public and private resources further.

Write, call, e-mail our candidates and legislators and ask them to look at funding for ADSD and community-based programs that are keeping seniors at home for a savings of millions of dollars to this state and its taxpayers, and stop the cuts.

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