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Advocates for the elderly seek funds

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Lynn Reeves spoke to the House Appropriations health and human resources subcommittee chaired by Rep. Katie Dempsey, R-Rome. Reeves and Maureen Kelly, legislative liaison for the Georgia Council on Aging, are seeking an additional $14 million in the state's 2019 budget.

"The explosive growth in the number of Georgians age 60 and older is already straining our current system ... and the loss of two federal grants created a funding crisis," Kelly said.

The two were representing CO-AGE, a coalition of 800 local entities advocating for the elderly that is led by the Council on Aging.

Top priorities for this legislative session are $10 million more for non-Medicaid home- and community-based services and $4 million to help fund the state's network of Aging and Disability Resource Centers.

Reeves said ADRCs — the 12 area agencies and nine centers for independent living — connect people to available services, which can be publicly funded or through private or nonprofit organizations. In addition to the hotline, 1-866-552-4464, they handle direct calls and referrals.

"Right now we're having a high volume of calls," Reeves said. "We usually see a large number after the holidays, when people visit and see the condition their loved one is in and look for services."

Reeves told the subcommittee about a recent call from the daughter of an 86-year-old homebound man who "struggles with dementia." The woman and her husband work full-time, and "were in a crisis" about her father, she said.

The ADRC was able to arrange for some home-based services, including meal delivery and a visiting homemaker service.

"Not only did we help the father, but we were there to help the caregivers, the family," Reeves said.

Kelly said home-based services delay a commitment to a nursing home by an average of 51 months. They save taxpayer dollars in the long run, she noted, but there are more than 12,000 on waiting lists across the state.

"Without more money, the list gets longer, their health declines, they need more skilled nursing and ... yes, some of them die," she said.

Dempsey's subcommittee also heard from foster care organizations, court-appointed attorneys representing children and other groups seeking funding for services to vulnerable populations.

The House passed the supplemental 2018 budget this week and sent it to the Senate. Hearings on the 2019 "big budget" will likely continue during most of the session, which runs through March 29.

CO-AGE will be lobbying lawmakers in other committees on the three other top priorities that members agreed on in meetings last year.

The group wants a central registry of abusers, to help prevent the hiring of caregivers with a history of abusing or exploiting elderly and at-risk people. Tougher penalties for violations of personal care home regulations, and the need for affordable assisted living options also are on the list.