ADVERTISEMENT

New York State has one of the nation’s best, most comprehensive Medicaid programs to cover the sick, elderly poor in long-term-care homes and hospitals.

When it comes to caring for the family members and friends who devote themselves to keeping their elderly loved ones out of long-term care and hospitals, it’s a different story.

New York ranks 48th among all states in providing support for its legions of caregivers, according to AARP. The estimated value of the care they provide out of love, duty or necessity is estimated at $32 billion each year.

Now, AARP and other organizations serving the elderly are urging Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state lawmakers to direct an additional $26 million in next year’s budget to the state Office for the Aging to beef up caregiver assistance programs, which would immediately help about 7,000 people move off waiting lists for help. That includes respite care and transportation assistance.

“The programs and services put in place between diagnosis and eventual long-term placement for Alzheimer’s patients are absolutely and unquestionably essential,” said Leilani Joven Pelletier, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Western New York Chapter. She was addressing a small gathering at the Lilly Apartments senior complex in Blasdell on Friday to mark the release of the report “Caregivers in Crisis: Why New York Must Act.”

She praised state funding for the much more costly extreme care when it is required.

“When Western New Yorkers are forced to go to skilled nursing facilities because that is what’s paid for, it breaks my heart,” she said.

Bruce Boissonnault, an executive council member for AARP NY and CEO of Niagara Health Quality Coalition, presented the report’s results, based in large part on input from caregivers and service providers who described lives defined by stress, and strain on time, energy and finances.

About half of the state’s 4 million caregivers are older adult children caring for an elderly parent; 25 percent of caregivers are over 75 themselves.

“Taxpayers are underwriting institutional care through Medicaid,” Boissonnault said Friday. “Between 5 and 10 percent of hospital admissions are for people who just had problems taking their medication.”

He made the case that a smaller investment in home health care assistance – taking a burden off full-time caregivers – could result in savings in the area of hospital care, but added, “The bigger reason is to keep people healthier. That’s what you want from the money you spend on health care.”

The report offered a list of the recommendations it is presenting in Albany, including:

• Establish a statewide Community Care Navigator program to connect caregivers with available services

• Give adequate funding to the state Office on Aging so it can help caregivers keep their loved ones home. Commissioner Randall Hoak of the Erie County Department of Senior Services said the county has 337 people on the wait list for its home care program, which can now fund only 225 people at a time. The aides help with daily basics such as laundry, bathing and shopping.

• Set up training programs for caregivers to handle basic medical needs. For instance, hospitals would have staff demonstrate medical tasks for the caregiver before their patients is discharged.

• Support and increase the affordable housing that allows seniors to “age in place.”

Kevin Horrigan, director of public affairs for People, Inc., said that HUD funding that his organization used to convert former schools and other buildings into 18 senior housing complexes over the past 20 years has been slashed, while the need is growing.

Each speaker emphasized the savings realized when elderly patients can be cared for at home, with money going to nonmedical support rather than higher priced institutional care. The report also mentioned that economies will be even more important with the state’s aging population.

New York ranks fourth in the number of residents ages 60 and over, with that population increasing, while the numbers of those under-60 are shrinking.

email: mmiller@buffnews.com