Agency on Aging budget deserves states attention

June 4, 2012
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In this top-ranked sustainable community it is not peculiar to extend the meaning of “sustainable” to the lives of senior citizens and an aging population. It may be particularly appropriate to do so this week as the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan holds a hearing on its budget plan for 2013 (1 p.m. Monday, June 4, at its headquarters, 1279 Cedar St., NE). The budget is especially focused on its continued Nursing Home Transition program, which has become a national model, and which relies on continued state funding.

The program is part of the MI Choice Medicaid Waiver program and is to be determined by joint House-Senate Conference Committees. The Business Journal supports the Agency’s call to legislators to approve Gov. Rick Snyder’s request for $11 million to serve the MI Choice waiting list and provide the $25 million in funding necessary to transition 1,600 people from nursing homes next year.

The program saves considerable dollars, targeting those on Medicaid whose nursing home care is an average of $172 per day, compared with an average of $60 per day in their own home, according to Agency records. Last year the program assisted 1,600 individuals in that transition, and Agency records show approximately 3,000 people in area nursing homes are candidates for the program. The program also worked in partnership with transportation agencies to provide more than 52,000 rides for seniors through its RideLink program

While the program targets reductions in Medicare costs it also is worth considering that in national surveys older Americans overwhelmingly favor staying at home to common alternatives in health care institutions. In that regard, it is interesting to note Grand Rapids last week hosted the sixth Eden Alternative International Conference, drawing more than 500 people to downtown, joined by those watching video live stream in numerous U.S. states and foreign countries. The mission of the worldwide nonprofit is to not only “revolutionize” nursing homes and emergency room care for the elderly, but also to change attitudes and perceptions about the elderly, even in a culture “seemingly obsessed with staying young” — or with the appearance of doing so. The organization promotes the positive aspects of aging and brought mighty advocates to the conference in Grand Rapids, including William H. Thomas, a Harvard-trained physician, award-winning social activist, “visionary eldercare reformer, mixed-power farmer, musician, playwright and author” who provided an extraordinary “vision for a new old age.”

Our “sustainable” community already offers an example of his 18-year-old, two-part mission to deinstitutionalize nursing homes. One of those missions is The Green House Project that has opened at Porter Hills Retirement Community in Cascade. Trinity Health also is involved in reinventing emergency rooms for seniors. (See the story on page 3.) Thomas is quick to note the Western world’s attitude in regard to aging has long-term and far-reaching implications for businesses and the health care industry.

These programs are lauded for the partnerships created and the private and community beneficence providing far better and less costly alternatives for this region’s aging population.

Support for the Area Agency on Aging model program giving Medicare recipients less costly and more beneficial choices must be demonstrated in legislative budget approval.

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