ALBANY — Too many aging New Yorkers are "languishing in hospitals" because the strained home-care system is insufficiently funded to service their needs if they were discharged, Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, said Monday.
Jones made the point at an Assembly hearing while the acting director of the state Office for the Aging, Greg Olsen, was testifying about his agency's response to the COVID-19 pandemic's impact on senior citizens.
A member of the Assembly Committee on Aging, Jones said many New Yorkers are "caught in the middle," because they have incomes above the threshold that would make them eligible for Medicaid benefits,, and they can't afford to pay for home care out of their own pockets.
"Quite frankly, if I hear another story (from constituents) where we cant send my aunt, my grandma or grandfather home because we don't have home care to take care of them, I just get sickened by that," Jones said.
Jones said New York needs to be on a track where there is "aging in place" for seniors — meaning they are getting the services they need in their homes instead of having to stay in hospitals when they don't need that level of care.
Olsen said recent federal legislation provides "huge investments" for expanding such care models. "This is a national problem and it needs a national solution," Olsen said.
Agencies that arrange home-care services often face challenges in recruiting aides because of the low pay in the industry and the need for the employees to have access to reliable transportation, Olsen added.
Commenting on family caregivers who devote time to helping an older adult living at home, Olsen said research shows such individuals are no longer women in their 60s, but in many cases are much younger adults, in their 20s or 30s.
He also said a survey of individuals who are both raising children and helping to care for an older relative have been so stressed during the pandemic that 52% indicate they have considered suicide over the piling up of responsibilities.
"We are seeing huge increases in mental health episodes, depression, anxiety, COVID-induced trauma," Olsen said. "There are resources we can connect people to, so this is an all hands on-deck effort.
His agency, he said, has been working with the state Health Department and the Department of Labor, with help from banking giant J.P. Morgan, to assemble and analyze the data from the survey.
When pandemic restrictions were imposed across the state last year, all senior meal sites and social adult day programs run by county governments had to close.
"In March 2020, our network almost instantly became responsible not only for our traditional customer, but also everyone over the age of 60," said Becky Preve, executive director of the Association on Aging in New York, a group whose membership consists of county offices on aging.
"That translated to an increase in demand for our services of almost 70%," Preve said. "Access to food, transportation, supplies, medication and home care services evaporated due to closures."
She said there was a "massive" surge in requests for home-delivered meals to people living alone across the state. Staffers with the agencies helped to transport older residents to their medical appointments and picked up their medication prescriptions, she recalled.
What is needed, Preve said, is a public awareness campaign to stress the importance of "fair pay" for direct care professionals who can help seniors stay in their homes.
The job, she said, is "so rewarding" for those who stay with the work, and more incentives could be provided, such as benefit packages and the use of vehicles so they can commute to the work site.
She said society needs to recognize the value of caring for aging individuals in frail health.
"When you're paying the same rates for someone to prepare your food or to wash your vehicle as you are paying for someone to take care of the most vulnerable members of our society. I think that talks to how much we value that specific population," Preve said.
The debate over how much state money should go to programs serving elderly persons will be part of the state budget discussions in early 2022.