In serving the elderly, don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish

Jul 18, 2013

As the impact of federal funding cutbacks continues to unfold, home health and senior meal programs, including those in Haywood County, are among the casualties.

That’s a pity on many levels. While providing in-home services is the caring things to do, the most poignant case for supporting them is a financial one. As a society, we hopefully are not ready to kick our elderly to the curb and let them fend for themselves. If that is the case, it makes sense to provide a helping hand in the most cost-effective way possible.

Currently, the Medicaid program continues to cover the costs of long-term nursing home care for those who need it and are out of options. The average cost of such care in North Carolina is $7,500 a month per person.

But for many, staying in their own home is the preferred option, but some need a bit of extra help to make that possible.

There are a number of programs in place that provide that bridge — the senior nutrition program offered by Mountain Projects, Inc., the Meals-on-Wheels program, transportation services to and from doctors appointments and in-home health services, to name a few. For just a fraction of what it costs taxpayers to pay for an individual to be cared for in an institutional setting, hundreds could be helped stay at home where they could get by with the help of family and friends.

The problem is, the very programs that will save money when considering the cost of programs for the aged are the very ones where cutbacks are being felt.

Take the Mountain Projects senior nutrition program where about 1,000 seniors in five counties, including Haywood, get a hot meal at noon each weekday as one example. Federal budget cuts resulting from sequestration — a 10-percent across-the-board budget cut in most federal programs — means participant numbers or the number of days meals are provided will decrease.

The $4,000 loss in funding may lead to a reduction in the number of individuals who can be served. That entire amount will pay for just over two weeks of nursing home.

If just one of the individuals who depends on the nutrition program has to enter a nursing home at taxpayer expense, that’s $90,000 a year. If continued cuts in home support efforts force all of the 1,000 in the program in this region into nursing homes, that’s $90 million.

That makes funding for a few meals, transportation and a bit of home health seem pretty cheap.

Multiply those numbers across North Carolina, and then the nation, and it is easy to see the foolishness of cutting back on the very programs that help individuals remain in their own home.

It is certainly true community members can step up efforts to fill in the gaps, both in funding and by helping those who need a helping hand.

But the extent of the cuts are such that communities can’t absorb them all, said Patsy Dowling, executive director of Mountain Projects, Inc.

“Our agency has lost over $700,000, so it is not realistic for the community to pick up that much,” she said. “I think we could raise some of the money, but what concerns me is that so many other organizations are needing to raise funds, too. It seems like it’s the same group of people who give.”

One way to help fill the gap is for a broader base of people to become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ in fulfilling his directives. Another way is to convince elected leaders that, as a nation, compassionate treatment for our elderly — our parents, grandparents and great grandparents — is a standard on which we will not compromise.

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