A senior moment: Let’s ask for what is sorely needed

By Danna Downing

In my growing-up home, we had a soft spot for the elderly. More than once we used an extra bedroom for someone who needed help. There was always an extra plate at the table for a senior who would be eating alone. Often my mother, a nurse, would stop by to give a weekly bath for those at risk for falls. Sometimes, I would be sent out to spend time with an oldster who would otherwise be alone. It was easier to do in the days when we had stronger neighborhoods and community ties. When my parents were aging, I was only 90 minutes away from them, but was working full-time and raising a family. We did the best we could, but I know that it could have been better, if I had only known how to get the help I needed. All these experiences fueled me into my becoming an advocate for older adults over the years.

The number of family and informal caregivers in Michigan is increasing in Michigan. The essential role that these unpaid caregivers play is well documented. While there is limited funding for caregiver services, resources remain scarce and there are significant regional differences across our state. Plus, the need for caregiver support continues to grow. According to the Michigan Center for Healthcare Research and Transformation, there are an estimated 1.73 million Michiganders providing unpaid care to another adult — 23% of our state’s population. Further, the center reports a sizable portion of caregivers are not able to access critical caregiver programs.

Since 2020, a cross-sector of stakeholders from Michigan has been working in partnership to identify and reach more family and informal caregivers in the state. The team recognizes that a systematic outreach, such as is being used to solve the direct care worker shortage, is needed. The Michigan team recommends the creation of a statewide, virtual, family caregiving clearing house which offers, resources, training and support linking caregivers to their local Area Agency on Aging (AAA) Caregiver Resource Center (CRC). The Michigan team also recommends a significant public campaign to inform family and informal caregivers statewide about the clearing house and how to reach and use its resources. This model has been tested in other areas and was recently shared with the Michigan Legislature by the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan (4AM). Individual AAAs may act as a caregiver resource center, on their own or align with neighboring AAAs to create a regional CRC.

After three years of working as an aging advocate, I think this legislative initiative sits in a place where letters from you to your legislative representatives could make a huge difference. I see this proposal as both reasonable and doable and I believe the time is now. After this year’s strenuous budget process, there remain $7 billion dollars on the table from American Rescue Plan funding. This money comes on the heels of COVID-19 which affected seniors and those with limited resources the most. If funded, this proposal would provide the state with a safety net for all of us to use.

Decisions about those monies could be made soon. The CRC initiative is supported locally by the Kalamazoo County Advocates for Senior Issues and our local Area Agency on Aging. Please contact me by email (dannadowning@gmail.com) to receive a copy of the proposal and a sample letter to send to your legislators in the event there is an opportunity for consideration in the lame-duck session or early in the legislative year. Letters may be mailed or I would be happy to deliver them directly when I am in Lansing.

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