By Neal Lane
The Buffalo News recently made a compelling case that boosting state supports for New York’s caregivers is both the compassionate and fiscally prudent thing to do.
Unfortunately, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new state budget proposal sticks to the status quo. It fails to provide adequate funding to ensure that at least 7,000 New Yorkers now stuck on waiting lists – including more than 500 in Erie County, according to the county’s Department of Senior Services – can start receiving cost-effective, non-medical in-home services for the aging.
If the thousands who can’t access those services are forced into mostly Medicaid-funded nursing homes, that will cost taxpayers dearly.
As the News pointed out in its Dec. 13 editorial (“Help in keeping the elderly at home reduces the need for expensive care”), $26 million for in-home services would “save money in the long run by keeping the elderly in their homes rather than in expensive institutions.”
In-home services, such as personal care aides to help with grocery shopping, laundry, bathing and other activities; personal emergency devices such as Life Alert, and supervised social adult day care help both the frail elderly and their overburdened caregivers.
Making these services available to all who need them is a smart way to cut taxpayer Medicaid costs while improving life for older New Yorkers.
It’s what many of the 1,400 caregivers who weighed in when the American Association of Retired Persons held listening sessions from Erie County to Long Island last summer and fall said they need.
It’s also overdue; New York ranked a dismal 48th in a survey of state support for caregivers by AARP. But not only should New York do better, it must.
With the population aging, there will be fewer caregivers available to help more-frail elderly in the coming years, AARP found. It’s a ticking time bomb, a crisis headed for disaster.
The governor would do right by all New Yorkers to heed the warning. And he has time to get it right; he can still amend his budget proposal.
But if he doesn’t, Western New York’s state legislative delegation should take the lead and add the $26 million in funding to the final budget.
In Erie County alone, AARP estimates that more than 100,000 residents 50 and older – about a third of the county’s 50-plus population – are providing unpaid care to an adult relative or friend or have done so in the last year. And nearly 200,000 – more than half – expect to provide such care in the next five years.
That’s already a huge chunk of Erie County’s population. And as New York continues to gray, those numbers will only continue to grow.
Neal Lane is AARP New York State president and served as director of the New York State Office for the Aging under then- Gov. George Pataki.