Michigan seniors want more home care, but funding is needed


LANSING — Funding for home care and other public services for seniors is not increasing in proportion to the number of seniors in Michigan, according to Melissa Seifert, associate director of AARP Michigan.

“Michigan is one of the fastest aging states in the country,” Seifert said. “We are also one of the worst states when it comes to adequately meeting the needs of our elderly population.

“A lot of taxpayers’ money goes to nursing homes, but not enough to home care,” she said.

About 30% of Midland County’s population is over the age of 60, having increased by 4,800 people over the past four years. The fastest growing segment is the over 80s, with the group often requiring more extensive services. In August, voters approved a five-year senior service renewal mile of 0.9 million. This is the same amount that has been withdrawn over the past eight years.

Taxpayer money is used only to support ongoing services for seniors and caregivers in Midland County.

Most older people want to “age in place,” staying at home and being cared for by family or friends, said Seifert, whose organization provides information and services for older people. But that is impossible for most people with current funding.

One-time federal funding under the American Rescue Plan Act provides an opportunity to better support the state’s elderly population, she said.

Although the money is a big step, Seifert said continued support is needed. The goal is to make structural changes to home care funding that will make a positive difference without creating additional financial obligations for taxpayers, she said.

The two most pressing issues for the elderly are unnecessary institutionalization and overcrowded aged care facilities, Seifert said. These problems are likely to get worse as more people age and are no longer able to care for themselves as they once did, advocates say.

Michigan’s proportion of seniors is expected to reach 22% by 2050, said Cathleen Simlar, communications manager for AARP Michigan. And the proportion of people 85 and older in Michigan is expected to reach 4.8% by the same year.

“We are incredibly unprepared for the number of people who will need senior services in the years to come,” said Rep. Laurie Pohutsky, D-Livonia, a member of the House Committee for Families, Children and Seniors.

“We will need more funding for them, especially for their health care. While there are options to help people pay for health care, that should be expanded,” Pohutsky said.

Seifert agrees. “Not only is there a lack of government funding in health care, but there is a shortage of direct care workers to serve those who want to stay at home,” she said.

Michigan needs 34,000 more at-home caregivers than the 165,000 it has, Seifert said. But “uncompetitive salaries, low job satisfaction, unpredictable schedules and a lack of benefits” make it difficult to attract and retain them.

That turnover costs Michigan $684 million a year, she said.

Services provided by the Tri-County Office on Aging have been strained during and after the COVID-19 pandemic as more people choose to age at home rather than move into a care facility for seniors, said Casey Cooper, director of community engagement and fundraising for the agency serving Clinton, Eaton and Ingham counties.

“For example, we run a Meals on Wheels program for our seniors and community members with disabilities,” Cooper said.

“Our services have been strained during the pandemic and we have had to be creative to serve everyone. While the qualifications for who could apply for our services were expanded, the funding was not,” Cooper said.

There wasn’t enough funding for a hot meal a day for everyone, she said. So instead, seven frozen meals were delivered once a week. Now the program has reverted to one hot meal a day, but people can still request frozen meals.

More creative solutions will be needed as Michigan’s senior population grows, Cooper said.

“Right now we are short of funding and volunteers,” she said. “If funding doesn’t increase as the number of seniors increases, people won’t be able to access all the services we might be able to provide.

Seifert said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed many gaps in services for seniors.

“These issues have been overlooked before and hopefully now increased funding and resources will be allocated to us that will enable us to serve our communities of seniors the way they want to be served,” she said.


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