May 22, 2018
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Study: Seniors need more help to age at home

Brenda Gallant
By Jackie Farwell, BDN Staff

Many older Mainers worry they’ll have to leave their homes because they can’t access or afford basic support services, according to a new statewide study.

Long waiting lists for home care services and a shortage of trained staff, particularly in rural areas, were among the chief concerns cited in the study, released by the Maine Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program. The study sought to identify gaps in services and opportunities for improvement, but didn’t specify what changes should be made.

“Everyone wanted access to affordable services at home,” said Brenda Gallant, executive director of the federally mandated ombudsman program. “People want to be home when they can.”

Prepared by the Muskie School of Public Service, the study was funded by the Maine Health Access Foundation and the Bingham Foundation. The results reflect listening sessions held last fall in eight communities across the state and survey responses from about 750 elderly and disabled consumers, family caregivers, community leaders and others.

“What we’re finding is there is a growing number or a growing capacity of services that can be provided in a person’s home so they can stay home longer,” said Bonnie Smith, deputy commissioner of programs at the Department of Health and Human Services. Smith presented the report at an Augusta event last week.

Older and disabled residents need help with transportation to doctors’ appointments and assistance finding information about long-term care, the study found. Many don’t know how to arrange for care after being discharged from a hospital or nursing home.

“The thing about long-term care is people don’t think about it until they need it,” Gallant said.

The confusion can result in people being matched with unnecessary services, Smith said. A registered nurse, she said early in her career she witnessed seniors who required only basic help living in nursing facilities.

“I wondered why they were in a long-term care facility because the support we gave them was minimal,” Smith said.

The survey polled low-income residents who use state-funded home care services but are not eligible for MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program. Many respondents said MaineCare dollars should be shifted to better support home and community-based services rather than nursing home care.

Residents in charge of hiring and managing their in-home help were the happiest with their care.

The study also found that family caregivers need better training, support and respite from the stress of tending to their loved one’s health.

Nearly all survey respondents had a primary care doctor, but 28 percent reported visiting the emergency room because they couldn’t get a timely appointment with their physician.

Affordable housing also rose to the top of the list of seniors’ concerns, the study found. Waiting lists for subsidized units can stretch from three months to three years, Gallant said.

The study will be handed out to Maine lawmakers this week, she said.

“We want legislators to know what people think about long-term care services in Maine,” Gallant said.

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