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Senior legislature seeks to improve conditions for older adults

CHAPEL HILL – The North Carolina Senior Tar Heel legislature (NCSTHL) met in Chapel Hill Oct. 4 and 5 for the final meeting of 2016.

Committees discussed resolutions and established NCSTHL priorities for the next two years. The group heard updates on budget cuts to programs for older adults and the importance of advocating on behalf of older adults.

Jerry Shelby is the Rowan County delegate to the Senior Tar Heel Legislature. He serves on the Legislation Issues Committee and the Resolutions Committee. The Resolution Committee develops the process of identifying benefits, expenditures and financial returns, setting the priority, and the presentation of the resolutions to the N.C. General Assembly.

The Senior Legislature encourages citizen involvement and advocacy on aging issues, provides information and education to senior adults and the general public on issues before the General Assembly, and makes recommendations on legislative needs of senior North Carolinians.

The NCSTHL voted to adopt five priorities out of 42 resolutions submitted this year. The 2016-17 new legislative priorities are:

• Increase Home and Community Care Block Grant (HCCBG) funding to assure the availability of cost-effective home and community-based aging services to the elderly. Approximately 10,000 seniors are on the HCCBG waiting list for services.

• Increase funding for senior centers to meet vital needs of the state’s growing older adults population.

• Strengthen and fund North Carolina’s Adult Protective Services (APS) program. Last year more than 24,000 adults were reported victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation. The Legislature provides no funding for the APS program due to $2 million budget cut.

• Re-establish the Study Commission on Aging which evaluated the delivery of services to older adults and recommended improvements to meet current and future needs. The Legislature eliminated the commission.

• Expand Project CARE (Caregiver Alternative to Running on Empty), which provides respite services to family members who are caring for a relative with Alzheimer’s or related dementia.

Shelby submitted 11 resolutions:

• Increase funding for community-based services for older adults to provide home-delivered meals, adult daycare, in-home aid and other services to help impaired older adults stay in their homes. There are almost 10,000 people on the “no person left behind” waiting list for services.

• Increase funding for senior centers to provide programs and services that enhance the health and wellness of older adults, support independent living and expand services for the growing older population.

• Establishing 24/7 Community Healthcare Clinics to provide service after hours, emergencies and the uninsured, so health care costs can be contained.

• Victims Rights and Assistance bill to help victims injured or taken advantage of, resulting in financial loss and/or unaffordable repair or medical treatment due to the negligence or misconduct of another person or business.

• Judicial Reform to be fair, eliminate bias, provide oversight, improve efficiency, reduce waste, simplify, reduce errors, provide assistance to victims and establish best practices.

• Establish a prescription drug assistance program for low income persons and have the state and nation negotiate drug prices.

• Provide scholarships and assistance to students to study geriatrics and general medicine and locate in rural communities.

• Provide auto insurance discounts for seniors taking a driver safety class.

• Expanding the Aging and Disability Community Resource Connection Program.

• Preserve Medicaid optional services for older and disabled adults.

• Aid to help citizens with advance care documents and end of life planning.

Speakers included Mary Edwards, Division of Aging and Adult Services, who reviewed the status of NCSTHL priorities and compared them to the other advocacy groups. A growing concern in North Carolina is that an estimated 30 percent of seniors suffer from malnutrition.

Kathryn Lanier, N.C. section chief, elder law, Department of Health and Human Services, spoke on the role of the ombudsman and residents’ rights in long-term care facilities. Ombudsman advocates investigated and resolved 3,800 cases last year.

Carmelita Karhoff, Region TJ Area Agency on Aging, presented Enhancing Dementia Care Through Personalized Music. The music helps people become calmer and less agitated, more engaged with others, and able to connect in a more meaningful way with family, residents and staff.

Vance Braxton, director, State Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) spoke about how the Republican-lead senate voted to defund the SHIIP program nationwide. The House has refunded it temporarily, but the budget still has not been approved. He encouraged citizens to contact senators Burr and Tillis and ask them to reconsider their vote to defund the program.

Without SHIIP trained personnel, senior citizens and disabled will have to depend on insurance salesmen to make decisions for them. 2016 is the 30 year anniversary of SHIIP.

Braxton also warned about Medicare fraud that increases during the annual open enrollment period Oct. 15-Dec. 7.

SHIIP trained volunteers will research the lowest total cost of a healthcare plan and research to see if a person qualifies for help paying the medical cost.

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