BUFFALO — The senior population of South Carolina will more than double over the next decade and the most cost-effective way to meet their needs is through community- and home-based programs, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell says.
McConnell brought his “Face of Aging” tour to the Buffalo Senior Citizens Center on Thursday morning, talking with the seniors present about the issues facing South Carolina’s growing elderly population and how best to serve them. The purpose of the ongoing tour is to assess existing aging services and gather suggestions on improvements from local seniors, adults living with disabilities, families, service providers, caregivers, residents, and community leaders.
As lieutenant governor, McConnell is head of the Lieutenant Governor’s Office on Aging which is responsible for administering federal funds received through the Older Americans Act. In this capacity, the office is responsible for overseeing home- and community-based services funded through federal and state sources.
McConnell said Thursday that since becoming lieutenant governor and gaining an in-depth understanding of the Office on Aging he’s concluded that the best way to meet the needs of the elderly is through home- and community-based services. He said that what he’s heard from seniors during the Face of Aging tour has confirmed this.
“Not one person I’ve spoke with has said they want to go into a nursing home,” McConnell said. “Everyone has said they want to stay in their own homes, all they need is a helping hand to maintain their independence.”
McConnell said that helping hand comes through community-based organizations like the Union County Council on Aging which provides a variety of services that help many of Union County’s elderly residents remain in their homes.
In addition to helping the elderly retain their independence and avoid or at least delay entering a nursing home, McConnell said community- and home-based care is cost-effective.
“If a senior ends up in a nursing home paid for by Medicaid it costs the state an average of $45,000-plus per person per year,” McConnell said. “A trip to the emergency room can cost an average of $6,000.
“Every person we can delay or prevent that from happening to we can save that much money,” he said. “Programs like this (Union County Council on Aging) that helps seniors stay in their home and avoid injuries cost an average of slightly more than $1,000 per person. You do the math.”
McConnell said providing seniors with the services they need while holding down costs will be especially vital in the years ahead as the senior population of South Carolina is expected to more than double from 900,000 to 2 million.
Despite this, McConnell said that the state has cut funding for aging services by 48 percent in recent years. He said that since becoming lieutenant governor he has urged the legislature to restore those cuts and increase funding by $5 million so community- and home-based programs can meet the needs of some 8,000 seniors waiting for those services.
Unfortunately, the state has only approved an increase of $2 million and McConnell said the goal of the Face of Aging tour is to provide him with public input that he can use to make his case to the legislature to fully fund senior care programs. He also called on seniors, their caregivers, service providers, families and local officials to lobby their legislators to approve that increased funding.
“Promote public awareness and communicate through the media,” McConnell said. “Meet with your legislative delegation and show them what is being done here.”
After the meeting at the Buffalo Senior Citizens Center, McConnell and members of his staff assisted Earl Black, director of the Union County Council on Aging, in delivering meals to some Buffalo and Union area seniors.
In talking with those he met while helping deliver the meals, McConnell again heard what he said he’d been hearing throughout his Face of Aging tour, that seniors wants to remain in their own homes if possible.
At one home, a woman said that her husband had undergone physical rehabilitation therapy at a local nursing home a few years ago and the doctor had told her she could not take her husband back home. She said she and her husband both wanted him home and that she was taking him home.
Since then, the woman said she and her husband have remained in their home and they’ve been able to do so because of the Union County Council on Aging.
“We’re going to stay here as long as we can because we’ve got good help,” she said.
Another senior McConnell helped deliver a meal to was Patsy Fernandez who lives at Brittany Manor.
Black pointed out that for many years Fernandez was a volunteer at the Jonesville Senior Citizens Center where she worked in the kitchen preparing meals. Now she too is receiving meals provided by the council.
“They’re really good meals,” Fernandez said. “I enjoy them.”
In addition to the meals, Black said Fernandez also receives homemaking services provided by the council.
Fernandez said she’s thankful for the services provided by the council which help her stay in her home.
“I want to stay here the rest of my life,” Fernandez said.
McConnell, who will soon turn 65 himself, said that the services provided by community-based organizations like the Union County Council on Aging are the key to meeting the needs of South Carolina’s seniors in a cost-effective but caring way.
“We’ve got 8,000 people on the waiting list for these services,” McConnell said. “It may be just a meal a day or homemaker services or transportation services. All our seniors want is a helping hand to maintain their independence and remain in their homes. These programs give the state the biggest bang for its bucks in meeting the needs of our seniors.”
Black agreed: “A meal and a little care can go a long way.”