Sunday, 14 April 2024

Programs for seniors suffer from state budget cuts

LAKE COUNTY – Programs to assist seniors took a big hit in the state budget signed this summer, and now local groups are looking for solutions.


In July Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used his blue pencil to eliminate state funding for all aging programs, an action that saved the state about $10 million in general fund expenses but is costing much more to a system that serves about four million seniors, according to an estimate from the California Association of Area Agencies on Aging.


The specific programs affected include support for Alzheimer's patients and their caregivers, care management and food distribution.


“The governor cut everything,” said Derrell Kelch, executive director, California Association of Area Agencies on Aging.


Impacted were services critical to seniors, frail people and the poor that are provided by an aging services network that has, over the years, leveraged state funds to generate millions of dollars to help frail seniors maintain their independence, said Kelch.


The governor's cuts mean a tough scenario not just for the state's 33 area agencies on aging, but on local delivery programs such as Adult Day Care-Respite of Clearlake, which offers two days of care in Clearlake and one day in Lucerne weekly. Kelch said Alzheimer's cuts amount to about $1.2 million statewide.


As of July 1, “No state money is supporting this program,” said Adult Day Care-Respite of Clearlake Director Eva Johnson.


The program used to get about $16,000 – often more – from the state to provide respite care for Alzheimer's patients. This year, they're only getting around $5,000, said Johnson.


“There used to be a lot of respite money out there,” she said.


Kelch said the explanation for the cuts is that health and human services is the largest area of discretionary dollars, and an area where the state has the potential to make cuts.


He explained that the cuts to aging programs originally weren't on the governor's cut list, but by the time of his third budget proposal revision, those programs were included.


“The problem with these cuts is these are on top of some huge cuts we took last year,” said Kelch.


Over the last five years, aging programs have experienced cuts totaling 45 percent, he added.


The concern now is that cuts to the programs will put seniors at risk, and end up with many of them being placed in nursing homes because of loss of services, according to Clay Kempf, president of California Association of Area Agencies on Aging and director of the Area Agency on Aging for Santa Cruz and San Benito counties.


Kelch and his agency pointed to a recent study by UCLA and the Insight Foundation indicates that 40 percent of older Californians struggle daily to meet their basic expenses of food, shelter and health care.


Lori Sweeney, senior program manager for the Lake and Mendocino Counties Area Agency on Aging, said the concerns for aging programs started in the fall of 2008, when longterm ombudsman funding was pulled.


She said Alzheimer's day care programs in both Lake and Mendocino were facing a $65,000 cut if all funding was eliminated.


Sweeney said nutrition programs are OK at this point, with about $70,000 for both counties coming from stimulus funds. She said the money had to be spent by 2010.


The local gleaners programs also were looking at losing $19,000 in funds, said Sweeney, and the Linkages program, which crosses both counties and receives about $300,000 a year, also was in danger. It offers case management for seniors who don't qualify for medical services.


Sweeney said a saving grace for Johnson's Lake County respite program is a small amount of federal AAA Funding, which offers her about $3,000. A similar Alzheimer's program in Fort Bragg doesn't have that funding stream, said Sweeney.


Since the local respite group was founded in 1997, it has served more than 150 people, according to Johnson, whose late husband suffered from the disease.


Having recently turned 80, Johnson continues to work hard to lead the program, which is a more challenging proposition with less funding.


Because of the cuts, and the fact that local respite services now are serving about 10 people – five people less than normal – Johnson said she had to lay off two full-time and one part-time employees. Volunteers are helping cover more of the services now.


The cuts are especially scary, said Johnson, because people are living much longer. She cited a statistic that 50 percent of those who live into their 80s will develop Alzheimer's.


“Memory loss is one of the biggest difficulties for caregivers,” said Johnson.


Johnson said clients don't have to have Alzheimer's to participate.


“We're out there to help people,” she said.


She said a year's worth of respite – on a two-day-a-week, 100-day-per-year schedule for clients – costs $3,500. Clients and their families used to get $300 per month to cover services, but now they can only get, at most, $1,000 annual scholarships.


However, even if they can't pay that amount, “We never turn anybody away,” Johnson said.


She said the clients have a lot of fun during their time at respite, which gives their caregivers a break from the constant care that is needed for some seniors.


Activities include hands-on projects, said Johnson. This past Tuesday, they made Halloween cupcakes.


“We really have a wonderful program,” she said.


Johnson said she thinks her program will squeak through, although programs such as AAA's Alzheimer's day care resource center have disappeared, and the Redwood Caregiver Resource Center – which provides respite vouchers and case management – took a 70-percent budget cut.


To keep going, Johnson is marshaling her local resources.


The Redbud Health Care District gives Adult Day Care-Respite of Clearlake a large grant annually, and the group recently received about $260 through a donations matching program offered by Mendo Mill and Lumber Co.


A recent fundraising effort, in which she put out a letter to community members, brought in $5,500, but more is needed.

“We're not gonna give up easy,” Johnson said.


To find out more about the services offered by Adult Day Care-Respite of Clearlake or to donate, call Eva Johnson at 707-279-4836 or write to 3067 Willow Road, Kelseyville, 95451.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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