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Elder services gets boost in Senate budget

TURNERS FALLS — Programs that allow poor elders to receive care in their own households, instead of turning to nursing homes, will see increases in funding next year — a much needed step in the right direction, said officials that help administer elder services.

“The last four years have been hard for elder services. This year, we are seeing long overdue emphasis on home and community care,” said Roseann Martoccia, executive director of Franklin County Home Care Corp., after the Senate Ways and Means Committee released its budget proposal this week.

“This budget really lifts us out of a slump,” said Al Norman of Greenfield, executive director of Mass. Home Care, who believes the increases will help reduce waiting lists for elder service programs. “(It) starts to rebalance how we spend our limited dollars, and puts the emphasis on community first — because that’s where seniors want to be.”

Just how much of an increase various elder services will receive remains to be seen. The full Senate budget will be finalized this month and a conference committee of both House and Senate members will meet in June to reconcile differences between the two proposals.

But the Senate committee’s allocations are telling because programs that receive increases in all three budget proposals — made by Gov. Deval Patrick, the House and the Senate — are virtually guaranteed to happen.

For instance, elder services covered by the state’s public health insurance program MassHealth — which is costing the state $2.8 billion this year — will see an increase somewhere between $105 million and $148 million next year.

Elder protective services, budgeted this year at $17.3 million, will see close to $5 million in increases next year (the House had a $4.7 million increase and the Senate a $4.9 million increase).

Local officials said protective services are crucial. There are about 90 reports of self neglect or allegations of elder abuse each month in Franklin and Berkshire counties, according to Martoccia.

Home Care officials will closely watch the fate of the Enhanced Community Options Program — an advanced program that provides two to three times the service of standard Home Care, and costs the state $47.5 million this year. Elders who use this program live at home, are not on MassHealth but need significant care, according to Martoccia.

Patrick cut spending on this program, the House answered with a $1.3 million increase and the Senate committee went even higher: a $5.5 million increase.

“There have been waiting lists for four years in this program, often meaning that a person has some services and help from family but they need more in home support to remain there,” said Martoccia. “Locally, there have been 20 to 30 persons a month who needed increases to manage at home.”

Home Care’s standard services received $97.8 million in state funding last year and it may receive slight increases next year.

Gov. Patrick cut its budget by $9,000, the House level-funded it, but the Senate committee increased it by $971,000.

You can reach Chris Shores at:
cshores@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 264

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