A senior moment: Time for action

By Danna Downing

Living out “Act III“ of our lives requires planning for uncharted territory and a certain level of bravery. In caring for aging parents, we may get a sense of what lies ahead.

However, each person and each journey are unique. In fact, as we plan for others or ourselves, there are numerous surprises and much over which we have no control. It is never too soon to start thinking about our options and all the possible scenarios that may unfold.

While we may try our best to muster our financial resources, we may still fall short through no fault of our own. We may need assistance from the aging network of services available in our local community, as well as state and federal programs. It is imperative to learn as much as we can about navigating through the ever-changing and complex system of services available to older adults. We need to have a general roadmap of how the aging network operates before circumstances create an emergency. We also need to identify gaps in the system. This gives us the opportunity to plan and advocate for improvements and better access for older adults.

May is an important month for older Michiganians; so important that there is an entire week set aside for celebration and activism on behalf of this growing population. This year May 9 through May 13 has been set aside for this purpose. This year is extra important for older adult advocacy due to the influx of pandemic funds to our state budget process that is slated for completion by July 1.

Michigan is working with other states to create a well-trained and professional source of direct care workers paid a living wage, to fill the 34,000 open slots in Michigan’s direct care worker pool. Michigan has a strong coalition working this critical national issue. Due to COVID, there are one-time resources available to help advance this initiative. Let your leaders know they can assist in solving this problem while creating new job opportunities and better caregiver services.

Eighty-seven percent of all older adults (across all political, educational and income boundaries) prefer to age in their homes. No one likes to think about ending up in a nursing home. Currently nursing home care costs on average $9,000 per month. Compare that to home-based care with long-term services and supports that flow from well-funded community agencies and governmental programs which cost about 40% less. Plus, there are other benefits such as increased comfort, reduced physical and mental health risks and a greater sense of autonomy. Aging experts in Michigan are advocating that our state rebalance this funding to support aging in community. Currently Michigan provides only 37% of its funding for Medicaid for home and community-based services, compared to the national average of 58.6% (2019).

Too many Michigan agencies have waiting lists for services that older adults need to live as independently for as long as possible. In fact, in Michigan, 7,270 seniors are on waiting lists for essential non-Medicaid in-home services, such as home delivered meals, in-home personal care, homemaking and respite care that delay or prevent more costly long-term care interventions. Older adult advocates support the goal of having Michigan achieve the status of becoming a no-wait state which requires increases in the new budget.

Funding mechanisms for supporting aging Michiganians are complex. You may not want or need to get into such complexities. But you may want to ask your community, legislators, and decision makers to remember your needs when they vote on fast-approaching funding and budget appropriations that affect older Michiganians in big ways.

The Michigan Area Agencies on Aging and Aging Network Partners have assembled a toolkit to help you alert community leaders and policy makers about critical senior issues. It includes their Platform for Legislative Action, a sample letter, and social media support for getting out the word. It will also tell you how to join a special Older Michigan Livestream event on May 11. Go to http://www.4ami.org/EVENTS. There will also be a local livestream party at Main Street Pub on May 11 at 11 a.m., with lunch available. For more information, request a packet of information by calling or emailing me at 269-779-5453 or dannadowning@gmail.org.

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