By Hon. Daniel McCoy, Albany County Executive
Albany County, like many other counties in New York State that own and operate nursing homes, is at a crossroads. Most county nursing homes are competing with private facilities to care for the elderly, and we are losing the battle. Private facilities ultimately care for more private pay and Medicare patients, while county-run facilities are left to care for the hard-to-place, and more expensive Medicaid residents.
While we in Albany County are determining the best course of action to care for our medically frail and elderly patients that need long-term care, we are also using our resources to keep our seniors in their homes longer by utilizing our Department for the Aging (ACDFA). This is becoming increasingly difficult as county governments are forced to do more with less, and the demand for senior services increases. The 2010 Census reported that 13.9% of Albany County residents were age 65 and older. The number of individuals over age 60 in our County has grown from 53,516 in 2000 to 60,195 in 2010.
The Albany County Department of the Aging provides vital services, including the Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly Program (EISEP) which provides in-home services to eligible seniors who face challenges with the activities of daily living. Last year, EISEP’s Home Delivered Meal Program delivered 163,324 meals to 659 eligible seniors. Our residents needed these meals to maintain their health and remain independent within the community. Our Congregate Dining Program provided 70,827meals to 2,448 seniors at 22 meal sites. Under this program ACDFA also offers grocery shopping assistance, phone counseling services to provide caregivers with alternatives to nursing home care, a respite program for caregivers, and support though our Kinship Caregiving Program to seniors who are caregivers to minor children.
The ACDFA provides nutrition and health services, in-home care and support, caregiver support services, legal counseling and assistance and senior employment assistance. Last year, through ACDFA’s transportation service, 1,243 seniors received 37,028 rides to medical appointments, meal sites, adult day care programs, shopping or other vital destinations. The ACDFA partners with our Department of Social Services to coordinate seniors with services through its Albany County NY Connects Point of Entry Access Line (POE). This line helps to empower seniors by giving them a better understanding of appropriate and cost effective non-medical support services including, but not limited to: nutrition, in-home care, prevention and wellness programs, and caregiver support. Additionally, the demographic data that is collected for the caller/consumers and their concerns helps provide us with a clearer measurement of their needs and the services they require. From October 1, 2010 through September 30, 2011, the POE received an average of 860 calls each month or 9,097 calls for the year. That is up 33% from last year.
These services provided by Albany County to our most vulnerable seniors are critical to their health and well-being. With an increasing elderly population and a demand for these services also rising, the ability to provide these programs is essential to our county. Unfortunately, these programs are in danger of losing funding or being cut completely. For example, the need within Albany County for the EISEP program surpasses the funding provided by New York State and was subsidized by a substantial county share. With unfunded mandates exceeding our property tax levy and sales tax receipts at 2007 levels, this significantly minimizes the availability of county funds for this program.
The work of the ACDFA touches the lives of many seniors every day. Albany County must begin to find innovative ways to fund these vital programs. This will be critical as the fate of the Albany County nursing home is debated. Seniors want to remain in their homes. Programs counties provide that can keep our elderly residents out of nursing homes as long as possible are not only more desirable to the individual, but cost less to our taxpayers. The ACDFA maintains quality programs with hardworking and dedicated staff, committed community agencies as well as from the generous donation of time by volunteers working with contracted agencies to assist seniors in our community. Volunteer assistance is crucial, but without real mandate relief, the future of these programs for our increasing elderly population is in jeopardy.