A second waiting list for elder home care began today. “This is just policy madness,” said Al Norman, executive director of Mass Home Care. “It hurts seniors, hurts taxpayers, and defies common sense.”
Though it came as no surprise to the 27 providers of the elderly home care program, the impact will be felt by frail elders who need this care to remain living independently.
The home care waiting list comes on top of an existing waiting list of 1,100 elders who need a higher level of support from the Enhanced Community Options Program (ECOP), which is for people who are eligible for nursing home care, but can be helped to live at home. The new wait list also comes on the heels of a budget from Gov. Deval Patrick, which cuts 242,000 elderly meals.
“We’ve got barking dogs nipping at us from all sides,” Norman said.
According to an instruction released by the state’s Executive Office of Elder Affairs, “The Home Care Program will be closed to applicants who are assessed as being Priority Level 3 or 4.” That means elders with limited formal/informal supports and a critical unmet need of grocery shopping will not get into home care, along with elders who have a critical unmet need of meal preparation.
In January, the state estimated that to end the ECOP waiting list would cost $3.8 million additional in FY 2012. The basic home care program also has a $1.4 million in deficiency — even with a waiting list. As many as 2,500 seniors could be waiting for home care and ECOP services by the close of this fiscal year.
According to Norman, community based services like home care are saving state and federal taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year. Compared to 2001, the state has saved 3.6 million Medicaid-funded patient days in nursing homes, as more elders are diverted home instead.
The Commonwealth has avoided an estimated $592 million this year through lowered institutional utilization. “This is the ‘home care dividend’ that should be invested back in community care,” Norman said.
Adjusted for inflation, the state home care program has lost $23 million in funding since 2009, according to the Mass. Budget & Policy Center.
“If we are squeezing down the home care program today, what are we going to say to the baby boomers when they need care?” Norman asked. According to Mass Home Care, one in four households (653,103 households) in Massachusetts has someone in them over the age of 65. Ninteen percent of the state’s population is over 60 —and seniors are the fastest growing age group.
“The administration likes to say we are a ‘community first’ state,” Norman concluded. “With these cuts, it’s looks like a wait first state.”