Capitol Tracker: Jim Wood makes protecting seniors a priority, introduces several bills on issue

Seniors are the fastest-growing population in California

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North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood is making protections for seniors one of his priorities this year as California’s fastest-growing population is expected to balloon by another 2.1 million people by 2026.

Wood

It’s a segment that is frequently referred to as the coming “silver tsunami.” The state’s Department of Finance said seniors will make up the greatest share of the state’s population by 2060.

“Within this ever-growing population, we have some of our most vulnerable seniors who often have to make difficult choices — to pay for their rent and utilities, see a doctor, or purchase groceries or the medications they need,” said Wood (D-Santa Rosa) in a prepared statement. “We need to protect our vulnerable seniors and my goal this year is to make a positive difference in their lives.”

As part of the effort, he is proposing a handful of bills as well as making some budget requests for funding to provide advocacy for seniors and funding to check on and investigate complaints in nursing home facilities.

The budget requests stem from a note made in the state’s audit of nursing home care, including looking at Brius Healthcare Services, which owns four nursing home facilities in Humboldt County. A fifth center was closed in recent years.

“This report concludes that the state has not adequately addressed ongoing deficiencies related to the quality of care that nursing facilities provide,” the cover letter of the audit stated. “From 2006 through 2015, the number of substandard care deficiencies that nursing facilities received increased by 31 percent.”

The state oversight is delegated to three agencies: California Department of Public Health, the Department of Health Care Services and the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. The report found “all three agencies have not adequately coordinated their oversight efforts, creating inefficiencies.”

Wood plans to address that with his funding request.

“This request will provide $3.7 million for an additional 150,000 hours of unannounced facility visits by paid staff and volunteers and another $1.5 million to perform an additional 8,000 investigations of the thousands of complaints that come in to them each year,” Wood said. “Protecting the residents of these facilities is a high priority, especially for those residents who do not have family or others who can visit regularly.”

Maggie Kraft, executive director of the Area 1 Agency on Aging, praised Wood for his requesting funding for ombudsmen and the investigation of complaints in long-term facilities.

“The ombudsman program’s strength is in prevention and early intervention,” she said in an email. “To do this, they need more ombudsman staff and volunteers to make unannounced visits to these facilities. California is one of only five states that also requires ombudsmen to investigate complaints of abuse and neglect. These complaints must be addressed quickly and compassionately.”

She also offered “kudos” to Wood for his proposed AB 1042, a bill that would increase funding for a program that allows seniors to keep an allowance for maintaining their home if they are temporarily in a care facility. The “Home Upkeep Allowance” gives seniors $209 per month for the upkeep.

“These seniors could be on brink of losing their homes and we need to prevent that. This allowance has never been increased and is totally inadequate to allow seniors to maintain their homes,” Wood said.

Kraft said the issue was something Wood discussed with local folks.

“Senior advocates met with Jim Wood late last year to talk about local issues, and housing topped our list of concerns for frail and/or low-income seniors,” she said. “The two elements of this bill will help those who must find a rental and pay a deposit before they can move, and homeowners who need to make sure their home is still there for them when they are ready to go home again. It makes no sense for someone to lose their housing and then be forced to living in a nursing home when they may no longer need that level of care. That costs taxpayers much more on an annual basis than letting them save some of their money for six months so they can go home and live in a less expensive environment.”

Joyce Hayes, the executive director of the Humboldt Senior Resource Center, supports Wood’s plan to increase support for seniors who wish to remain in their homes — the Multipurpose Senior Services Program or MSSP — a program that she said has not seen an increase in 13 years.

“In that time, our salaries have changed, our expenses have changed, but we’re trying to serve the same number of people with the same amount of dollars as years ago,” she said Monday afternoon. “This would make up for all those years of inadequate funding.”

She said the MSSP program is “extremely helpful to keep people in their homes.”

“We have a team of nurses and social workers that develop a care plan and the program is able to buy some services to keep the person in their home,” she said. “It could be meals, it could be doing some repair on the home, it could be financial assistance.”

Ruth Schneider can be reached at 707-441-0520.

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