Home care waiting lists must end


By Michael E. Festa

This is not fiction: A 101-year-old Massachusetts senior with a serious heart condition has the ability to live independently in his home, with the help of his daughter, but may be forced into a nursing home because he cannot get the home care services he needs. He is currently on a waiting list — for home care.

headshot_festaHome care helps people stay independent in their own homes by providing a variety of services, including homemaker and chore services, transportation, protective services, respite care to relieve caregivers and information and referral.

Today, more than 1,000 Massachusetts seniors are not receiving the home care services for which they are eligible. Instead, they are put on waiting lists. Many are forced into premature nursing home care, which is more expensive for families and for the commonwealth.

Others rely exclusively on their family caregivers, giving these dedicated individuals no respite, at the cost of their own personal health and sometimes their jobs.

Still others die while waiting. This is unacceptable.

AARP believes: The time to end home care waiting lists is now — for our seniors, for their caregivers, for our commonwealth.

Time and time again, our research finds that the vast majority of seniors want to stay in their own homes and communities as they age. Yet, long-term care in the commonwealth is weighted disproportionately toward institutional care, like nursing homes, leaving home care under-funded, seniors under-served and caregivers over-stressed. This must change.

Today, 10 million seniors nationwide rely on others for assistance with daily care. This number will grow as boomers head into their 70s, 80s and beyond. And, long-term care is, indeed, an expensive proposition.

Medicare does not pay for most long-term care. And, most families have not yet planned for long-term care needs. Instead, they make difficult decisions during an unexpected crisis, without ample time to understand options and have frank conversations with their loved ones; certainly not the ideal situation.

Long-term care insurance is available, but only a small percentage of adults in the U.S. purchase these plans, mainly due to the cost and complexity. In Massachusetts, AARP fought hard to get a law passed that will standardize long-term care insurance in the commonwealth — making it easier for consumers to understand and compare plans.

Not surprisingly, most Americans support the notion of helping out older family members in need. But, we also must provide support for family caregivers.

In Massachusetts, three major home care programs are available: a basic program, and two enhanced options that provide a higher level of service for those seniors who are medically eligible for a nursing home — including respite care to give caregivers a break.

Home care programs served 64,000 Bay State residents last year. Some pay privately for these services or through long-term care insurance; others receive help from MassHealth, the commonwealth’s Medicaid program.

Strengthening and rebalancing long-term care — that includes high quality, affordable skilled nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, adult day health services, senior housing and home and community based services — for today’s seniors, and those who will need these services in the next decades, should be a priority for all of us. After all, by 2030, the 65-plus population will grow to more than 20 percent in Massachusetts or an estimated 1.5 million residents.

We must make available the long-term care services that our older residents need, in a way that is fiscally responsible for individuals, families and the commonwealth.

But, right now, we have an immediate priority. AARP is fighting to end home care waiting lists — and on other issues that matter to you and your family.

If, like me, you believe home care waiting lists must end, once and for all, join me in raising your voice. Call your state legislators today at 888-259-9789: Urge them to fully fund home care in the Fiscal Year 2014 state budget — and end home care waiting lists.

Michael E. Festa is the state director of AARP Massachusetts, which represents more than 800,000 members age 50 and older in the Bay State. Connect with AARP Massachusetts online at www.aarp.org/ma; www.facebook.com/AARPMA; and www.twitter.com/AARPMA