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Health News Florida

Florida Healthcare Association & AARP: Florida Needs To Revamp Long-Term Care As State Ages

An elderly woman sits with her hands folded on her lap. (undated photo)
An elderly woman sits with her hands folded on her lap. (undated photo)

The Florida Healthcare Association and AARP are talking to anyone who will listen. Their message: pay attention to long-term care. Florida’s population is getting older and according to federal data, in 10 years, a third of Floridians will be over 60. That milestone comes as the state’s funding for programs like home care, nursing home funding and caregiver support lags behind.

An elderly woman sits with her hands folded on her lap. (undated photo)
Credit Cristian Newman / Unsplash
An elderly woman sits with her hands folded on her lap. (undated photo)

“We really need to start talking about this because our senior population is growing, and our caregivers are aging. Our family caregivers, our professional caregivers—nurses are retiring, they’re reaching baby boomer ages," says Florida Healthcare Association Communications Director Kristen Knapp. She says Florida is approaching a crisis point—people are getting old. The people who take care of them are getting old and there aren’t enough social and financial supports or resources to keep up with the demand.

It often falls on family members to take care of their elderly relatives but increasingly, those caregivers are still working themselves, or are often the only ones in their family who take up the task. Most of those family caregivers are also women. The AARP’s Dave Bruns says its past time for the state to take a look at aging.

“What we need is a continuum of care. Care that starts with folks helping up their parents, grandparents and spouses with just a few things."

Things like medications, doctor’s visits and transportation.  As people age or get sicker the demands on caregivers grows. Bruns says "what we frequently have happen is the caregiver’s health suffers, and they can’t go on anymore, and people end up going to an assisted living facility, or a nursing center.”

He says why not spend $5,000-$10,000 on caregivers at the front end to avoid or even delay hundreds of thousands of dollars in nursing home and hospital bills on the back end. Florida has put more money into home and community based programs that help people stay in their homes as long as possible. But the funding hasn’t kept up with the demand.

“We have currently a waiting list for those programs of 74,000," says Bruns. "Now, six years ago that waiting list was half the size it is now. Although the legislature has funded increases…the increases are falling behind the rate of increase in our older population.”

Knapp and Bruns are part of a coalition called “ Silver Solutions.” They’re joined by Leading Age Florida, and the SEIU. The group is developing recommendations to address the state’s long-term health needs. But it won’t be ready for lawmakers this year. The group is focusing on short-term goals instead. Like increasing funding for nursing homes and community based care programs.  It’s also highlighting two bills dealing with aging. The House wants the state to study the possibility of allowing some seniors with whole life insurance policies, to use their premiums to fund their long-term care. The state would place a lien on the policy, and whatever is left over, would go to beneficiaries. The Senate’s plan would put that in place. Both measures also call for a re-working of the measures used to determine who gets priority on the waiting list for home care.  

Medicare, the federal healthcare program for people over 65, does not cover nursing home care long-term and insurance options for long-term care are few and far between. Knapp says lawmakers are starting to listen.

“They’re hearing us, they understand, they’re asking questions about our workforce challenges. But there’s a lot of people asking for help this session in terms of the budget," she says.

The challenge is getting people to see the issues are universal. The AARP offers a “ Prepare To Care” guide on its website to help families begin navigating what can be a tough conversation.

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