Kent Taxpayers Care For Elderly

September 8, 2004
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GRAND RAPIDS — If it takes a village to raise a child, it can also take a county millage to care for elders.

In a nutshell, that was the underlying philosophy behind the Senior Millage that county voters approved back in 1998 when they agreed to allocate .25 mills of their property-tax bills toward providing care for needy county residents aged 60 and older.

And voters have been providing an array of care options for seniors through the program that is managed by Kent County and administered by the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan (AAAWM) since 1999.

This year the Senior Millage budget reached $4.5 million, up $228,000 from last year.

The additional revenue allowed the program to add four new services for seniors and also put more funds into the Priority Services account, which normally captures 54 percent of the budget each year.

One new service will make its debut next month, when low-income and uninsured older adults will receive free flu and pneumonia shots. The Visiting Nurse Association will begin to administer the program in October.

“There is a group of people in the 60- to 64-year-old range that doesn’t have coverage for this through Medicare and can’t afford the shots,” said Jackie O’Connor, AAAWM assistant director. “The committee that makes funding decisions thought this was so important that it voted for a special October allocation.”

Another new service gives seniors afflicted with Parkinson’s disease an on-site respite program offered through the Parkinson’s Association.

“The current on-site respite programs focus on dementia,” O’Connor said.

Other health-related services in the program include prescription assistance, emotional counseling, care management for frail seniors, a long-term care ombudsman, an assisted living directory and counseling, dementia screening, health education, an independent living program, adult day care, vision services and medication management.

Funds from the Senior Millage also offer homemaking, personal care, home repair and a number of other services — 41 in all — that 26 agencies provide.

For funding purposes, the services are grouped in four categories: priority, access, supportive, and general and preventive services.

In-home and nutritional services make up the priority services category, which get the bulk of the Senior Millage funds. Priority services have been funded with $2.63 million this year.

Access services make it possible for older adults and their caretakers to enter into the senior services network. Twenty-three percent of the budget is invested in the access category, or about $1.09 million for 2004.

Supportive services help frail elders remain in their homes. Around 10 percent of the annual budget, $487,000 this year, goes to this category.

Health promotion and disease prevention services are in the general and preventive category, which gets about 13 percent of the budget or $573,000 for this year.

Some money from the millage also goes into an emergency fund each year, an account that usually helps elders with weather-related emergencies.

Roughly $41,000 went into the fund this year, an amount that more than doubled the $18,300 that went into it last year.

Something like $4.5 million is expected to make up the Senior Millage budget again in 2005, and the program is expected to run at a deficit again next year.

According to the proposed 2005 Kent County budget, expenditures will exceed revenues by $587,000 next year — a hefty shortfall for a budget of its size but still much less than the $854,000 in red ink expected to surface this year.

The deficits will be covered by the account’s balance, which stood at nearly $1.8 million at the start of this year.

That reserve account, however, is expected to drop to $358,000 by the end of next year.

Voters approved the millage for eight years.

With the services beginning in the summer of 1999, the last go-around for the programs is set for the summer of 2006. Another millage request is likely to be put before voters before it expires.

The remaining two of the four services added to the program this year give the elderly a chance to buy equipment through the Disability Advocates home modifications program and to take part in a predatory-lending prevention program from Home Repair Services.

“The people at Home Repair have seen elders fall victim to agencies offering refinancing for their homes,” O’Connor said.

“What older adults don’t realize is the high interest rates and fees make it difficult to pay back the loans, putting them at risk of losing their homes.”

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