RALEIGH -- AARP is pleased that the Governor’s budget proposal for FY 2021-2023 will help North Carolina emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and enable the state to strengthen health care access. As the process moves forward, AARP advocates are urging lawmakers to fund important programs and services that help people age in their own homes and communities, and better protect our state’s most vulnerable seniors. AARP is also asking state lawmakers to prioritize specific measures to promote our wellbeing.
Aging in Place
When it comes to aging, AARP research has shown us that people have a strong preference to remain in their own homes and communities as long as possible. It can be less expensive than institutional care settings. However, this care often relies on the help of vital services as well as family caregivers,” said AARP Manager of Advocacy Lisa Riegel.
Home and Community Care Block Grant (HCCBG) funds are intended to provide in-home and community based services in support of older adults and their unpaid primary caregivers. When it comes to supporting these grants, the federal Older Americans Act provides approximately 45% of the funding.
Right now in North Carolina, the demand for these services far exceeds what is available. There are more than 11,000 residents (and growing) on waiting lists for programs. The average wait time is 39 months across the spectrum of HCCBG services.
The HCCBG funding allows for the provision of a broad range of services designed to take care of important needs like in-home health aides, congregate meals, adult day services, and caregiver support.
AARP Is also asking to expand the HCCBG criteria so people can physically adapt or modify their homes to accommodate their functional limitations and to access assistive technology software, equipment, or products that can help them improve, increase, or maintain specific functional capabilities.
Health Care Access
When it comes to health care access, investing in broadband, enabling telehealth and closing the healthcare coverage gap will do the most. Currently, North Carolina is one of only 12 states that have yet to close the coverage gap (Wyoming, Texas, South Dakota, Wisconsin, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Kansas and Florida).
This year could be different with the help of the American Rescue Plan where an additional $1.7 billion in federal funds are available to support closing the Medicaid coverage gap without the state covering any cost share for up to six years.
“We all know the impact that the uninsured have on overall health care costs. Not only does health insurance give people the access to the care they need, it also can save the system in the long run if our population is healthier, and uses preventive medicine to better control chronic conditions,” said AARP State President Dr. Catherine Sevier.
While telehealth and allowing Advance Practice Registered Nurses to use their training and education without outdated restrictions will certainly help people living in rural or remote areas, basic transportation to medical appointments can be a challenge.
Rural Operating Assistance Program (ROAP) funding provides transportation for the elderly and disabled to get to essential medical and other appointments. Without this funding there is little to no option for transportation for some of our state's most vulnerable citizens.
Improving Long-Term Care
With aging, comes the necessity for quality long-term care (LTC). COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in North Carolina’s LTC system. Key to quality is adequate staffing. Staff shortages were a problem before and were only exacerbated during the pandemic. In the short-term, additional funding is needed to increase wages and for hazard pay to attract the needed work force. In the long-term, a more comprehensive approach must be developed to address the direct care workforce shortage through recruitment, training and retention. This shortage includes caregivers both in facilities and in homes.
We also need to ensure proper oversight of residents of facilities by providing enough funding to have an adequate number of long-term care ombudsman. Based on national studies for adequate staff-to-resident ratios, North Carolina needs an additional six positions. Ombudsmen protect residents’ rights and improve the quality of care in long-term care facilities. They provide access and advocacy services that assist residents in protecting their health, safety and welfare.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has also compounded the need for increased state funding of adult protective services to help combat elder abuse that studies show only increases with social isolation. Adult Protective Services investigates allegations of abuse, caretaker neglect, self-neglect, and exploitation of elderly and disabled adults. Rising caseloads demand greater funding so that staff may spend adequate time with clients and investigate abuse, neglect and exploitation complaints
AARP advocates are urging the state Senate to fund essential services that improve the health, safety and well-being of all North Carolinians. Creating greater access to health care and supporting programs that foster independence will do the most to improve health and promote well-being of mid-life and older North Carolinians.
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This story is provided by AARP North Carolina. Visit the AARP North Carolina page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.
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