State to cut home-based assistance for seniors

Cuts in state services for the aging could force hundreds of elderly Kansans out of their homes and into nursing institutions, officials said Tuesday.

The state Department on Aging announced that, as of Jan. 15, it will cut several services it provides through home and community-based service waivers, including aides who stay with elderly people overnight and assistance in retrofitting homes for wheelchair accessibility.

The department will give up about $1.37 million in federal matching funds because it can no longer afford to pay the state's share of $625,000 to provide the services, said spokeswoman Barb Conant.

Services to be cut include:

* Assistive technology support, which helps seniors obtain items such as wheelchair lifts and ramps, accessible toilets and bathtubs, and grab bars to help prevent falls.

* Sleep-cycle support, which provides aides for seniors who need to have someone in their home during overnight hours.

* Comprehensive support, which provides aides to assist seniors who are cognitively impaired with tasks such as reading mail, addressing letters and paying bills.

* Dental services, which provides seniors with dental care to help them receive proper nutrition and avoid issues with breathing and pneumonia.

Conant and Annette Graham, director of Sedgwick County's Department on Aging, said the service cuts could force seniors out of their current homes.

The cuts could be "enough to no longer make that (home) a safe place to stay," Graham said. "Often, the option would be a nursing home."

All of the 550 Kansas seniors affected by the service cuts are eligible for nursing care, Conant said. It could not immediately be determined how many will have to move.

"We know these are services that many Kansas seniors rely upon to stay in their homes, but we can't continue to provide them and stay within our budget," Martin Kennedy, acting secretary of the Department on Aging, said in a statement. "However, we'll continue to monitor expenditures and restore these services if conditions allow."

Conant said her department has determined that nursing care generally costs the government about three times as much as serving elderly people in their homes.

But under federal law, nursing home care is considered an entitlement for the frail elderly, while home and community services are optional and contingent on state funding.

Physically and developmentally disabled Kansans have faced similar issues since last year when cuts began in their waiver programs.

In a pilot program, Vermont renegotiated its contract with the federal government to make home and community services an entitlement. By reducing the number of residents in government-paid nursing care, the state was able to save millions of dollars and serve substantially more people with the same budget.

The Kansas Legislature has not seriously considered such a plan.

The cuts for the aging come at a particularly poor time for Sedgwick County, which is in the midst of an ongoing program to find ways for seniors to "age in place."

In June, Sedgwick County was one of four communities nationwide selected to hold workshops on ways communities can be redesigned to help elderly residents remain in their homes and out of nursing care.