KHI News Service

Governor’s budget includes cuts in elderly services

KDoA told to cut employees costs by almost 25 percent

By Dave Ranney | February 14, 2011

Hoping to avoid making frail seniors wait for services that help keep them out of nursing homes, Gov. Sam Brownback has told the Kansas Department on Aging to cut its salaries by $3 million.

That’s almost one-fourth of the agency’s employee costs.

“I don’t see how they can do that,” said Jim Beckwith, a former executive director with the Northeast Kansas Area Agency on Aging in Hiawatha. “This is a department that doesn’t have that many employees to begin with and that, last year, said it was already operating in the red. So, here we are now, seven months into the state’s fiscal year and the demands being put on KDoA haven’t gone down, they’ve gone up.

“I think we’re headed for frail-elderly waiting list.” Beckwith predicted.

The Senate Ways and Means Subcommittee on KDoA is expected to begin its review of the department’s budget later this week.

Attempts to reach KDoA officials for comment were unsuccessful.

KDoA imposed its first and only waiting list for services for the frail elderly in 2002. That hold was lifted in 2004 after funding was restored.

Historically, KDoA has avoided a waiting list because limiting frail seniors’ access to services increases the likelihood more will be admitted to nursing homes, which generally ends up costing the state more than home- and community-based services.

States are required to cover nursing-home care for frail, low-income seniors; in-home services are not subject to a federal mandate.

More than 91 percent of KDoA’s $572.9 million annual budget is spent on nursing home care.

Brownback also proposed a 10 percent cut in the state-funded portion of the department’s home-delivered and congregate meals programs; a 20 percent cut in Senior Care Act-funded grants.

Across the state, area agencies on aging use Senior Care Act dollars — $6.3 million in the current fiscal year — to pay for in-home services for frail seniors who are low-income but ineligible for Medicaid.

Typically, if these seniors have to move to nursing homes, they’re soon eligible for Medicaid.

“It’s an incredibly effective program when it comes to keeping people off of Medicaid,” and out of nursing homes, said Annette Graham, executive director at the Central Plains Area Agency on Aging in Wichita. “In Wichita, we already have a waiting list for Senior Care Act services. We’ve made revision after revision in our budget, but the demands just continue to grow. We didn’t have a choice.”

The economic recession has put more pressure on the programs, she said.

“Judging from the phone calls we get from seniors and their families — they know they need help or they need services, but they also know they can’t afford them,” Graham said. “They’re maxed out. They’re coming to us because they have nowhere else to go.”

Jane Metzger, who runs the Meals on Wheels programs in Shawnee and Jefferson counties, said she’s worried that lawmakers will underestimate the impact of the proposed $300,000 cut to the meals program.

“I’m sure that in the scheme of things, that looks pretty insignificant and maybe it is — unless you’re that senior citizen who’s not going to be able to get on the program,” Metzger said. “We understand why all this is happening, but we also understand that people who are frail, elderly, homebound, and need a security check and a daily meal are going to suffer.”