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Published: Saturday, 7/4/2009

State legislators will determine how much Ohio cares about its elderly


AS OHIO lawmakers wrestle with where to slash the state budget, I get the feeling that they must have identified the Fountain of Youth and are getting younger - not older, like the rest of us.

It's either that or else they don't have to give a single thought about their care in their old age. Good for them. In the meantime, though, a good number of elderly Ohioans are very much worried about what will happen to them if state legislators cut budgets that allow senior citizens to stay in their homes.

While in college, I worked in a nursing home, and though it was decent by standards at that time, not one of the residents was especially delighted about living there, as I recall.

Nursing homes remind me of hospitals: They are places where people go because they have to. Nursing home residents are not there because they want to be, even when staff work hard to make life pleasant for them.

However, a lot of seniors could find themselves living in nursing homes if the state turns a deaf ear to the public cry to preserve funding for senior citizens, and if it ignores the development of new and expanding efforts to meet the needs of the growing number of elderly Ohioans.

Gov. Ted Strickland wants to cut 18 percent from the PASSPORT Medicaid Home Care Program and 30 percent from the senior community services block grant. If legislators follow his lead, here's what could happen just in northwest Ohio: 800 elderly would be forced to move into nursing homes; 200 jobs would be lost, as would funding for services for the elderly and disabled, and for home and community-based care.

"Many states are looking at trying to make the home-care option readily available and urging people to look at home care first because it is less costly," Pam Wilson of the Area Office on Aging said Wednesday during a rally to urge the state to forgo these cuts.

PASSPORT lets seniors who can remain independent in their homes and out of nursing homes. They may need assistance with personal care and food preparation, but they can otherwise manage on their own. As long as those elderly only require some aid and can safely stay home, why sock them away in nursing homes to pine away the rest of their lives when they don't need to be?

That's what a $40 million reduction in those funds could lead to. And what's worse is that a funding reduction in that program would grow the state's burden of responsibility to $102 million.

That doesn't make much sense to me. But then, I'm not the governor or a state legislator.

As the years pass, I'm better understanding the wisdom in the sage statement that Bishop C. Garnett Henning told public officials, dignitaries, and guests during the groundbreaking ceremony for the new Warren AME Senior Services Center a week ago today.

"The true character of a nation is determined by how it treats its young and its old," he said in the often quoted statement.

As the most senior of the Baby Boomers get closer to their golden years, we hope state lawmakers will bear that comment in mind as they wrestle to try to cut $2 billion from the state budget. Surely they have the fortitude to distinguish the Buckeye State as a state that cares about its elderly.

Rose Russell is a Blade associate editor.

Contact her at: rrussell@theblade.com

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