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NW Georgia Agency on Aging racks up legislative ‘wins’

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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 in-home 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.