Cuts target seniors trying to live at home

Staff writer

Mary Hoffner has been able to stay in her home instead of going to a nursing home because she gets 10 hours a week of help.

Hoffner, 77, has suffered a heart attack and has COPD. She uses oxygen and needs a wheelchair or a walker to get around. Because of vision problems, she can’t be sure dishes are clean or the floor is thoroughly vacuumed. Having someone to come in a few hours a week helps with things like that.

“I have to have somebody here when I take a shower because I fall so much and also help me dress because I cannot put shoes and socks on myself,” Hoffner said. “I need help to go shopping or on any kind of outing because I can’t see to drive.”

Hoffner, who lives in a rent-controlled apartment in Hillsboro, with friends nearby and an emergency button she can use to summon help if needed, gets $143 worth of assistance through the Senior Care Act.

“I think everybody would rather be in their own home,” she said. “I just have a feeling there’s more safety there.”

For Marion resident Susan Ross, Senior Care Act assistance has made a life-changing difference.

When she first moved to Marion from Illinois three years ago, she moved out of a rehabilitation hospital so she could be closer to her sister, Judy Zimmer, in Herington. Her initial move was to St. Luke Hospital.

“She was near death three times from complications of COPD, pneumonia, and pulmonary embolism,” Zimmer said. “It went so bad she just needed constant care. She also needed a heart valve, and that’s what really regenerated her.”

Zimmer said assistance under the Senior Care Act help helped Ross get stable and then start getting better.

Now in her own apartment, she gets eight hours of help per week with such activities as cleaning, laundry, cooking and personal care.

The state provides $121 weekly to defray the $142 cost of her care through the Senior Care Act.

On average, recipients of Senior Care Act assistance pay 12 percent of the cost of their services.

“When I first moved into my apartment, I was weak. I could have done the laundry and dishes and all those things, but barely,” Ross said. “If you don’t have a clean kitchen, you can’t even make a sandwich.”

Just coming in and checking on her helps, Ross said. Once when her housekeeper entered Ross’s apartment, she found Ross passed out on a bed, so ill she hadn’t been able to take medications.

The assistance has helped her regain her independence as well as improve so she does not to need as much hands-on help, she said.

“First of all, I’m independent, which I could never have done without the hours,” she said. “I can’t begin to tell you how much I appreciate the services. It has helped me tremendously, even emotionally. It’s an important part of my mindset of getting better instead of the mindset of just staying sick.”

Hoffner and Ross are among seniors in 18 counties served by North Central Kansas Area Agency on Aging who recently got letters telling them their services were being curtailed because of a $2.1 million statewide budget cut. The regional agency’s share of the cut is $236,000.

“Unfortunately this cut will affect you and your current services,” the letter states. “The decision to reduce Senior Care Act funding was made by the legislature, Gov. Brownback and the Kansas Department for Aging and Disability Services.”

So far, neither woman has been told how much aid will be cut for them.

Julie Govert Walter, executive director of the regional agency office, said cuts would reduce hours of service and increase how long seniors will have to wait to receive them.

“At the time the cut was announced, we had something like 50 people on the waiting list, but the very next day after the cut was announced we started adding people to the waiting list,” Walter said. “We have probably 80 people on the waiting list now.

“We don’t get calls for help because somebody thinks it would be neat. When that call comes in, they’re calling because it’s a real need.”

Seniors needing — but not getting — assistance are more likely to end up at an emergency room because of a fall, improper medication monitoring, or some other health crisis, Walter said.

“A lot of time what seniors need is just a little bit of help to get by,” Walter said.

Hoffner agrees.

“Having the services can keep me in my home instead of going into a nursing home,” she said. “They need to stand back and look at what they’re going to be doing.”

“At one time I was seriously considering staying in a nursing home, and if I hadn’t known I had this help, I would have stayed in the nursing home,” Ross said.

Walter said each person served by the Senior Care Act should expect about 30 percent fewer weekly assistance hours. Further adjustments could be made when their annual assessments are done.

“Thirty percent is being cut, so the average consumer will see approximately 30 percent less time,” Walter said.

Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, said he was unhappy about the cuts.

“That’s what the governor’s done when he made the allotment deal, when revenues were down and not up to what they were expected to be,” Barker said.

Barker said he had voted two years in a row to add exempted partnerships back onto the tax rolls.

“I’ve always been an advocate for keeping people in their home,” Barker said. “It’s cheaper, they do better, and they have family contact. If we keep them in their home, they pay the property taxes and do a number of things. It’s like everything else. If you don’t have to go to the hospital, you do better.”

Barker said services for developmentally disabled people were also being cut. The situation needs to be addressed, Barker said.

“I don’t think it’s fair. They are vulnerable, and a society is known by how it takes care of the vulnerable,”

Sen. Rick Wilborn and Rep. Don Schroeder could not be reached for comment.

Last modified July 14, 2016

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