Elect governor who will give priority to services for seniors

Posted May 31, 2010, at 6:57 p.m.
This artwork by Jennifer Kohnke relates to health-care plans for the elderyly.
Jennifer Kohnke
This artwork by Jennifer Kohnke relates to health-care plans for the elderyly.

These are uncertain times for our state. The recession has affected all of us in one way or another, and while we work to make ends meet now, many of us wonder what lies ahead.

The governor and our legislators have worked diligently to fill a number of holes in this year’s budget that resulted from reduced revenues. But it’s generally recognized that our budget challenge will continue and could get worse in the coming years depending on the rate of economic recovery and the amount of continued fed-eral support we receive.

As the candidates for governor go about their campaigns, I encourage them to add “helping Maine’s elders” to their lists. It is critically important that they show clear vision and real leadership to set Maine on the right course for a better future. Such a course must include addressing Maine’s aging population and their growing need for services. Now is the time for us to lay a foundation for developing care options that allow individuals to remain in their homes.

Maine is the oldest state in the country with the highest median age. In 2000, about 14 percent of Maine’s population was 65 or over. By 2030, 22 percent of Maine’s population will be 65 or over. As the years pass, the percentage of older adults is increasing, and the percentage of younger persons is decreasing. If we apply pres-ent-day health and care need statistics to the aging baby boomer population and continue on the path we’re on, we’ll see that we are in dire need of helping our elderly.

We have a growing elderly population. Pressures on family caregivers will increase. Today 80 percent of our elder care needs are provided by family and friends from the baby boomer generation. For example, my mother had six children, all living in Waterville, all potential caregivers. We six children have between us maybe six potential caregivers, a ratio of 1-to-1.

If we ever are going to provide care and other needed services to this “elder boomer” population, we must begin now by fixing the existing elder care model so that we can better help today’s elderly and accommodate the baby boomers as they age and need services.

We know that most Mainers want to be able to stay in their homes and communities for as long as possible. Home-based and community-based services provide a cost-effective way to make it possible for our elderly and disabled residents to remain in their homes. Without these services, many elderly and disabled residents will be forced into more expensive institutional care where they don’t want to be and at a greater cost to our state.

As we look to Maine’s future, home-based and community-based services must be supported and strengthened. Without such support, Maine’s long-term care system as it now is structured will be unsustainable. Already waiting lists for home-based and community-based services are growing daily. At present, there are more than 1,200 elderly and disabled residents who need services and are waiting. We must act now to eliminate these waiting lists so that Mainers get the services they need, now and into the future.

Fortunately, important work already has been done regarding the need to plan for caregiver services for Maine’s growing aging population. Your Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the Blaine House Conference on Aging and the state’s Blue Ribbon Commission on the Future of Home-Based and Community-Based Care all agree that home and community-based care options must be supported and strengthened if we, as a state, ever can hope to provide the care needed to keep Maine’s elders in their homes and communities.

Much more needs to be done. Maine’s next governor must have an understanding of the needs and challenges facing Maine’s elderly. Further, the next governor must have the foresight and courage to take action now before the elder boomer generation wave comes ashore.

As we consider who will lead our state into the future during this coming election, let’s be sure the gubernatorial candidates understand the importance of Maine’s aging population and effectively address the growing need for home-based and community-based care.

We can have a bright future if we chart the right course today.

Maine’s elders deserve nothing less.

John Nale, a Waterville lawyer, is president of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging.

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