Coun­cil on Ag­ing racks up ‘wins’

Leg­is­la­tion passed this year adds pro­tec­tions and ser­vices for older Ge­or­gians.

Rome News-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By Diane Wag­ner Staff Writer DWag­

A home-care pro­gram for Alzheimer’s pa­tients and progress on stem­ming el­der abuse are two of the leg­isla­tive vic­to­ries the Ge­or­gia Coun­cil on Ag­ing is cel­e­brat­ing.

“We had a very good year,” GCOA rep­re­sen­ta­tive David Coff­man told more than two dozen ad­vo­cates and pro­fes­sion­als at a briefing hosted by the North­west Ge­or­gia Area Agency on Ag­ing in Rome.

Coff­man pre­sented sev­eral videos ex­plain­ing GCOA pri­or­i­ties the Ge­or­gia Gen­eral Assem­bly funded or ap­proved dur­ing the ses­sion that ended March 30. The bud­get con­tains over $13 mil­lion in new fund­ing to ex­pand ex­ist­ing pro­grams and cre­ate new ones.

Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome, was among the law­mak­ers fea­tured in the video

on home-based ser­vices. She said more than 9,000 se­niors are on the wait­ing list — and it costs 10 times as much for a nurs­ing home as it does to give el­derly adults the help they need to stay self-re­liant.

“Nurs­ing home beds are a last re­sort,” Dempsey said. Coff­man said there’s new money for adult pro­tec­tive ser­vice work­ers, a pros­e­cu­tor to help put abusers in jail and a raise for those who mon­i­tor nurs­ing homes. Work will con­tinue over the sum­mer, he said, on a bill ex­pand­ing the el­der abuse reg­istry.

A reg­istry cre­ated last year to track pro­fes­sional care­givers ac­cused of ex­ploit­ing, ne­glect­ing or abus­ing their charges only ap­plies to nurs­ing homes.

Doug Leuder, a mem­ber of the Na­tional Ag­ing in Place Coun­cil who also owns a home care com­pany, spoke in a video. He said it’s also an is­sue with in­home pro­fes­sion­als, es­pe­cially when there’s enough ev­i­dence to fire them but not enough to pros­e­cute.

“With­out a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion, they just get a job some­where else,” Leuder said. “We need a way to alert em­ploy­ers who serve these vul­ner­a­ble com­mu­ni­ties.”

There’s also $1 mil­lion more for the Med­i­caid home care pro­gram for Alzheimer’s pa­tients and $4.2 mil­lion to es­tab­lish the Ge­or­gia Alzheimer’s Project. It’s a part­ner­ship with Emory Univer­sity to im­prove early di­ag­no­sis.

A push to get an ad­di­tional $250,000 for an on-call ride pi­lot pro­gram that would have helped se­niors in Floyd County re­main in their homes was not funded. How­ever, Coff­man said GCOA would make it a pri­or­ity in 2018.

“Con­sis­tently, trans­porta­tion has ranked the No. 1 need in our area,” said Lynne Reeves, di­rec­tor of the North­west Ge­or­gia AAA.

Leg­is­la­tion aimed at pro­vid­ing oral health­care ser­vices to se­niors in nurs­ing homes failed last year, but made it to the gov­er­nor’s desk this year. It lets den­tists send hy­gien­ists out to un­der-served “safety-net” fa­cil­i­ties with pa­tients who can’t eas­ily get to an of­fice.

In the coun­cil video, the bill’s spon­sor Rep. Sharon Cooper, R-Ma­ri­etta, said some prob­lems with teeth and gums can ul­ti­mately af­fect the si­nuses and brain, so den­tal care is im­por­tant to over­all health.

The Fam­ily Care Act is an­other bill Coff­man said would help se­niors, in­clud­ing grand­par­ents who are rais­ing their grand­chil­dren. It re­quires com­pa­nies that pro­vide paid sick leave to let their em­ploy­ees use up to five days to care for im­me­di­ate fam­ily mem­bers.

“This pro­tects the jobs of care­givers who work,” he said.

Sev­eral other bills are also be­ing counted as wins.

Coff­man said Se­nate Bill 186 ac­knowl­edges “kin­ship care,” mak­ing it eas­ier for grand­par­ents to take care of school needs — en­roll­ment, ex­tracur­ric­u­lar per­mis­sion slips, vac­ci­na­tions — for chil­dren liv­ing with them.

And House Bill 221 pro­tects peo­ple with Alzheimer’s and other dis­abil­i­ties by set­ting clear guide­lines for what those who hold their power of at­tor­ney can — and must — do.

“These are look­ing af­ter peo­ple who, in most cases, can’t look af­ter them­selves,” Coff­man said.

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