More than a million Georgians — or roughly 1 out of 10 people in the state — are 65 or older.
And over the next 30 years, Georgia is facing an estimated 143% increase in its senior population.
With this aging trend looming, the General Assembly will consider a bill that would move the current Division of Aging Services out of the Department of Human Services and create a new state agency.
House Bill 86, sponsored by Rep. Tommy Benton (R-Jefferson), took its first step toward passage Monday, winning unanimous approval from the House Human Relations and Aging Committee.
“We are getting older, and there are some things that need to be done’’ for this population, Benton said in testifying for the bill.
He told GHN after the vote that the bill could give services for seniors more visibility and funding. Benton said Gov. Nathan Deal had not indicated yet whether he supports the bill.
The proposed Adult and Aging Services Agency would be attached to the Department of Community Health, the state agency that also handles Medicaid.
Previously, Human Services (and its predecessor agency) had housed public health and behavioral health divisions for the state. But beginning in 2009, state lawmakers passed bills that broke off both of those units and turned them into their own individual departments.
If House Bill 86 passes and creates a new agency, Human Services would be left to focus on children.
Human Services’ current priority is the welfare of children, Vicki Johnson, legislative chair for the Georgia Council on Aging, told the House panel. “We think the needs of seniors are quite different from the needs of children.”
The state’s plan for dealing with Alzheimer’s and dementia would have a better state focus, said Kathy Simpson of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Georgia chapter. Currently, there are not adequate services for the state’s estimated 130,000 people with Alzheimer’s, she told lawmakers.
James Bulot, the director of Georgia’s Division of Aging Services, said it appears that creating a new agency would be revenue-neutral for the state.
He also said that 90 percent of his division’s current work is done in conjunction with Community Health, which is where the new agency would be attached.
The Georgia Health Care Association, the industry group representing the state’s nursing homes, told GHN that it has no position on the bill.