Rally opposes cuts in care for seniors

Dianna Massey of Norcross says respite care greatly helped her family when her mother had Alzheimer’s disease.

For years, “she was aggressive and combative,’’ Massey said. Before her mother died four years ago, her father was able to afford respite care – short-term help so the caregiver can have time off.

Concerned about those who cannot afford such care, Massey came to the state Capitol in Atlanta to talk about the importance of help for families who have loved ones with Alzheimer’s.

She joined lawmakers and other officials who spoke to scores of seniors gathered in a cold rain on the Capitol steps, attending a rally against proposed budget cuts in government aging programs.

The cuts in the state Department of Human Services budget include a $2.6 million reduction for community care services in the current fiscal year.

For fiscal 2014, which will begin in July, $484,559 is being cut from Alzheimer’s disease services and respite care. Another $528,871 is being trimmed from Adult Protective Services, which will lead to the elimination of 17 jobs that serve more than 1,700 seniors.

“The few dollars for respite in the budget are critical,’’ Massey told the crowd. “We have to take care of the caregivers.’’

Because of state budget constraints amid a persistently weak economy, Gov. Nathan Deal has ordered every agency to trim 3 percent of its current year’s spending and to carry that over into next year.

AARP and other advocacy organizations say the cuts will force many elderly people to depend on nursing homes instead of getting services in their homes and communities, which are less expensive.

Addressing the rally were state lawmakers who chair their respective chambers’ Health and Human Services Committees, Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta) and Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford), along with Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), chairman of the House Human Relations and Aging Committee.

Another speaker, Elaine Wilson, a state long-term care ombudsman in the Albany area, urged the crowd to ask legislators to eliminate the budget cuts for aging services.

“Some things shouldn’t be budget issues,’’ Wilson said. “They are human issues.’’

Adult protective services workers investigate reports of abuse, neglect or exploitation of older people or adults with disabilities.

The 17 job cuts would come to family service workers in that division that help provide support services to seniors in need, such as transportation and shopping help.

Responsibility for those services would instead fall on the investigators, who are already overburdened, said Kathy Floyd of AARP Georgia.

GBI Director Vernon Keenan, who also spoke to the rally, told Georgia Health News that abuse of the elderly is a surprisingly extensive problem. “It’s the unknown, unreported crime.’’

On the issue of elder abuse, he said, Georgia is “where we were with child abuse 25 years ago.’’

A proposed House bill, if approved, would clarify criminal proceedings and penalties related to abuse of the elderly. “That bill will be a major step [in] prosecuting these crimes,’’ Keenan said.

A statewide task force of law enforcement officials, judges, prosecutors, and social service agencies has been working on issues related to elder abuse, Keenan said.