Where do we turn in our golden years? | Editorial

Whether you resist it fiercely or embrace it with optimism, we are all getting older.

And for those of us without family members to provide care or a paid home care worker, it can mean moving into assisted living.

For the next 18 years, around 8,000 baby boomers will turn 65 every day. By 2030, one in five Washingtonians will be considered elderly and many will need long-term care.

The median age on Orcas is 60 years, 40 percent of the population is 65 years or older and ages 80 and over are the fastest growing population.

We have wonderful support systems in place at the senior center and Hearts and Hands. If someone needs transportation, help with tasks or just a friendly face, there are volunteers ready to help.

But reliance on government support for long-term care needs will continue to grow as baby boomers age. Many rely on the state’s Medicaid system to pay for long-term care services in nursing homes and assisted living centers.

According to the Washington Health Care Association, a group that represents assisted living providers, Medicaid rates haven’t been updated in nearly a decade – and were cut by six percent from 2010 to 2012. Nursing home rates were last updated in 2007. Rates fell short by over $100 million in 2012 —and over half the state’s nursing homes lost money.

“Failure to update rates creates problems at the bedside, where care quality is truly defined,” wrote Robin Dale, CEO, WHCA. “Seventy percent of the cost of long-term care is wage and labor-related, thus financial losses equal lost jobs and that translates to lost quality. This is simply not sustainable.”

In October, we reported on local senior citizens’ concerns voiced at a town hall meeting in Eastsound. A prevailing theme was the subject of home care. How can islanders look toward retirement and beyond and what can be done to help them stay on Orcas as they age? At this point, off-island facility care is often the only option.

“Medicaid limits home health to three hours a day, so what about the other 21 hours of the day?” asked Barbara Trunkey at the meeting. “It costs about $27 an hour for a formal caregiver.”

Another problem with home care is that Medicaid, Medicare and insurance policies require the patient to go to a licensed agency. But the agency needs a minimum number of people to be financially viable before working with a location like Orcas Island. And Medicaid won’t insure if the agency is not willing to serve them.

Call the Legislative Hotline in Olympia today at 1-800-562-6000, and let your legislators know that seniors matter. Tell them skilled and assisted living care must be a priority in the supplemental budget.