Summer 2019: Aging in Community – Age-Friendly RI Advocacy News
Aging in Community and Caregiver Supports, A Focus on Dementia, New Office of Healthy Aging, Stronger Elder Abuse Protections, Mark 2019 Legislative Wins
Aging in Community Supports
Studies show older persons prefer to remain in their own homes and communities and remaining engaged and connected to the community helps maintain health in our older years. Funds in the state budget for the 2019-2020 fiscal year to help older adults age in the community include:
- $500,000 to continue the Livable Home grant program providing grants up to $5,000 to help pay for home modifications to help persons to remain living in their own homes,
- A cost of living (COLA) rate increase for home care providers to support home care workers who assist persons needing help to stay living at home,
- Continuing $800,000 for grants to support local senior centers and programs that provide a range of services to promote health and community engagement, and
- Continuing the $5 Million allocation to the RI Public Transit Authority to maintain the No-Fare/reduced-fare bus program providing public transportation to thousands of low-income older adults and persons with disabilities.
Supporting RI Caregivers
Support for the state’s unpaid family caregivers was a priority of the Aging in Community Subcommittee during the 2019 legislative session. Our advocacy resulted in increasing state funds for the Carebreaks/respite program from $140,000 to $325,000 thus restoring past funding cuts and addressing a wait list that had climbed to over 100 families seeking short respite breaks to help keep loved ones safely at home. We thank Representative Julie Casimiro and Senator Senator Walter Felag for their Resolutions to add $185,000 to the state budget for the respite program. To further support caregivers, legislation sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Mary Ellen Goodwin (S294) and Representative Julie Casimiro (H5867) was passed to require annual reports on caregiver assessments being conducted and to establish a statewide family caregiver support association.
Focus on Dementia
2019 saw major legislation to deal with the projected increase in persons with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) and the need for coordinated state planning. The comprehensive “Rhode Island Program to Address Alzheimer’s Disease” (H5178A) law sponsored by House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi and Senator Cynthia Coyne (S223) was enacted. It requires:
- the state Health Director to assess all state programs addressing ADRD, to establish a protocol on AD assessment, and to annually update the RI State Plan for ADRD as prepared by the Long Term Care Coordinating Council under Lt. Gov. Dan McKee’s leadership,
- creating a 13-member Advisory Council to: advise the Governor and legislative leaders on developments and advances in AD; recommend policy; compile data on the number of residents with ADRD; identify available resources and evaluate state-funded programs,
- require licensed physicians and nurses to complete a one-time course on the diagnosis, treatment and care of patients with cognitive impairments, and
- require every health care facility to implement an operational plan for recognition and management of patients with ADRD.
New Office of Healthy Aging
Promoting health and community engagement for older adults is sound fiscal and social policy and a long tradition of state government working together with our federal and local partners. The Governor proposed and the legislature approved changing the Division of Elderly Affairs to an Office of Healthy Aging to more accurately reflect the mission of empowering older adults and persons with disabilities to age healthfully, happily and safely.
Strengthened Elder Abuse Laws
As recommended by the Special Senate Task Force on Elder Abuse and Exploitation, a new law will require national criminal background checks for persons seeking appointment as guardians or limited guardians (S845A by Sen. Coyne & 6114A by Rep. Serpa.) Another law requires additional reporting requirements on older adults reported to have been abused in or prior to admission to health care facilities (H5573aa by Rep. Bennett & S603A by Sen. Coyne for Elderly Affairs.)
The 2019 legislature continued to take actions to support aging in the community, to support the state’s caregivers and to make our state more age-friendly. We appreciate and thank the many legislative champions who sponsored and/or supported our legislative agenda. However, much more remains on our agenda. We will continue to advocate to expand and gradually increase the Temporary Caregiver Insurance (TCI) program from 4 to 6 to 8 weeks, to make home and community services more affordable for low-income older adults and persons with dementia under age 65 and to advance policies supportive of the health and economic security of RI older adults. I invite you to join our advocacy team as we continue our efforts to develop and promote policy and legislation supportive of Aging in Community.
Chair, Aging in Community Subcommittee
Policy Consultant, Age-Friendly RI