Senior Legislative Action Day was an opportunity to hear from state and local aging agencies and local legislators on senior issues.
McIntosh Trail Council on Aging hosted the event for Spalding and Pike counties, something Dave Lamb said he hoped will become an annual event, with a goal to bring in the federal representatives next year, since some of the issues are related to federal programs.
Lamb, who represents Spalding County on the McIntosh Trail Council on Aging, said there are “1.3 million seniors in the state over age 65, well over 10 percent of the state population. The fastest growing segment of the population is seniors, driven by baby boomers.” In Spalding and Pike counties there are 14,000 seniors, making up more than 16 percent of the population. In Spalding County, he said, seniors over 65 make up 17.4 percent of the population, and 15.7 percent in Pike County.
“The Council on Aging feels it’s important to expose you to these issues, and to expose our legislators to those issues,” Lamb said.
Georgia Council on Aging Executive Director Kathy Floyd spoke about some of the issues the Council on Aging will be presenting to legislators in the next session to meet the challenge of the senior population explosion. These include funding for in-home care, to help seniors stay independent as long as possible, noting the $4 million approved has helped bring the waiting list down from 12,000 to 7,000 for Georgians age 60 and older waiting for in-home services.
Those services include help with meals, grocery shopping and other personal living tasks, including respite relief for primary caregivers. The cost for this, Floyd said, is about 1/10th the cost of a Medicaid nursing home bed.“Keeping people independent as long as possible,” Floyd said is the goal. “It saves taxpayers. Medicare does not pay for long-term care, past 100 days. Medicaid does. Many start off as private pay, but spend their assets down until Medicaid kicks in. Hundreds go off the waiting list because they can’t wait no more.”
The Georgia Council on Aging serves in an advisory capacity on aging issues to the governor, General Assembly, state Department of Human Resources and all other state agencies. CO-AGE, the Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s Elderly, is a group of individuals, consumers and providers interested in improving the quality of life for seniors through public policy.
Another priority, Floyd said, is funding for Aging Disability Reserve Connection, a neutral source of information about options for seniors who need help staying independent. It is a coordinated system of partnering organizations dedicated to providing accurate information about long-term supports and services, a majority of which are private, not government-funded. Currently, there’s $33,000 in funding for each of the 12 statewide service areas. Additional funding, she said would strengthen the network to meet the growing population.
Other priorities include requirements for personal care homes, with 1,400 licensed in the state, to make sure they are doing the best job here. This also helps “fight elder abuse,” Floyd said.Senior living options are also a priority as is health coverage for low-income seniors, with a proposal to raise the annual income above the current $12,384 for seniors on Medicare to help them with deductibles and co-pays, as it could improve health outcomes.
Georgia Division of Aging Services Director Abby Cox and Three Rivers Area Agency on Aging Executive Director Joy Shirley also spoke. Cox works with the 12 regional agencies and Shirley is the director of the local agency, which has 43 different programs in the 10-county region.
Cox said the state programs include the Georgia Memory Network, which has five memory assessment centers across the state — in Augusta, Atlanta, Macon, Columbus and Albany — with the assessments to help detect all forms of dementia. She encouraged seniors to use the Medicare well visits which now include a cognitive screening.
“If they detect something not quite right, they are referred to the local memory assessment center,” Cox said, and after assessment and diagnosis, wrap-around support services begin, to make sure caregivers get supportive services. Cox said there is a state-planned hearing process to set goals for senior care. Three Rivers recently hosted one to get input from providers, consumers and caregivers.
Sandra Deal, wife of Gov. Nathan Deal, is a part of the Older Adults Cabinet, which includes state agency department heads so the agencies can collaborate on three priorities finding a way to protect those abused and exploited; access to services; and workforce development.
While there is currently not a cure for dementia, Cox said, one of the main concerns raised is senior hunger, “we can do something about that.” She said the solutions are local in focus, and different across the state.“We are building coalitions is all 12 service areas,” she said.
Shirley said Three Rivers Area Agency on Aging has been around since 1977 and she’s watched it grown. The 10-county region has 15 senior centers, which Three Rivers contracts with the city and county governments to provide meals programs, and make sure they are in compliance with state requirements.Three Rivers also has a database of 2,500 resources in the region, from hairdressers to those who could build a ramp. For more on aging disability resources call 770-854-5402.
Georgia District 73 Rep. Karen Mathiak thanked the three women for the services their agencies provide and went over some of the legislation that has been passed to help seniors, including bills putting teeth in penalties and punishment for elder abuse. Others will help seniors stay in their homes longer, and help with education for caregivers.
Georgia District 16 Sen. Marty Harbin (R-Tyrone) said “we need to remember its not about programs it is about people. Caregivers are very, very, very special people,” sharing his own experience with them and his family. “We need partnerships, public and private,” he said. “ Government can’t do it all.”
Oct 25, 2018 RAY LIGHTNER, Griffin Daily News