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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, November 1, 2007

Seniors stay home
County expands services to the elderly

By Saranac Hale Spencer

ALBANY COUNTY — Elderly residents may be staying in their own homes rather than moving into nursing homes as a trend toward home care continues in the county.

In 2008, Albany County plans to expand several programs that help seniors stay in their homes. Earlier this year, the county stopped accepting new residents into its nursing home in an effort to comply with the recently adopted Berger Commission recommendations. The state commission determined that the Ann Lee Home and the Albany County Nursing Home should merge, eliminating 60 beds, for a total of 250 by June of 2008.

The Berger Commission, formally called the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century, was formed under former Governor George Pataki to examine hospitals and nursing homes across the state and recommend changes to make the health care system more cost efficient.

One result of the commission’s finding in the case of Albany County’s nursing home is that some county residents who need nursing-home care are being sent out of the area, said County Legislator William Aylward. About nine months ago, a long-time Albany barber was sent to a suburb of Boston for care, he said. Several other people have been sent to other areas in Massachusetts and Connecticut, he said.

"The question is whether we are serving the people," Aylward said of decreasing the number of beds in the county’s nursing home. "We’re shipping people away."

Kerri Battle, spokesperson for the county executive’s office, said that she didn’t know of anybody who has been sent out of state for care, but, she said, some "unique" medical services required by patients may only be offered in Massachusetts.

The county’s 2008 plan calls for a continuation of the Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program, which provides services to seniors so that they can stay in their own homes rather than moving to a nursing home. It’s not a new concept, and it’s unrelated to the moratorium on new patients at the nursing home, according to Vincent Colonno, commissioner of the Albany County Department for Aging.

"It’s always been our motto," he said of keeping people in their homes and in their communities. For seniors, Colonno said, it’s "important to stay in their homes and stay active."

The move to keep seniors in the community is an initiative supported by Ted Danz, Aylward’s Republican challenger in next Tuesday’s election, vying to represent western Guilderland, including Altamont. Danz has his own 82-year-old mother living with him. "Our parents took care of us," he said. "Our seniors deserve the very best we can give them."

The proposed 2008 budget for the county’s Department for Aging is $5.1 million, up from $4.9 million this year, and $3.9 million the year before.

One of the county’s goals for 2008 is adding a "consumer directed component" to EISEP, which would allow seniors to use that program to pay for care from a person of their choice, like a friend or neighbor.

"Generally" it allows the senior to choose who is going to care for them," Colonno said. Although it’s not available yet, Colonno said, "The state is researching it pretty aggressively."

Some people require 24-hour care and need a nursing home, though, which isn’t available in the Hilltowns, Linda Carman told county officials at a public hearing held on Tuesday for the proposed 2008 plan. Carman, who lives in Knox, actively lobbied for senior housing in the Hilltowns after her mother, several years ago, had to move to a nursing home in Guilderland.

"You talk about keeping seniors in their homes, now how are you going to do this"" she asked. "Some of these people don’t want to stay in their homes."

The Berger Commission report recommends increasing the number of in-home-care oriented programs in the state. "Regardless of nursing home bed availability," it says, "the state has an insufficient supply of non-institutional alternatives" The shortage of non-institutional slots is more severe in upstate and rural areas of the state."

The commission estimates that the aggregate of nursing-home beds in the state is appropriate for the demand, but, the report says, "Though the population is gradually aging, the shift to home and community-based care could keep pace with this trend, particularly as baby boomers turn away from institutional settings."

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