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Senate bill could strand low-income seniors

Originally published: Jun. 4
Last modified: Jun. 4

James Howell

The proposed budget from the North Carolina Senate, which was granted preliminary approval on Friday, May 30, could have devastating effects on low-income seniors who rely on Medicaid to fund assisted living.


Melissa Deskins, executive director of Forest Ridge Assisted Living, said this new set of regulations for assisted living may leave five of her residents with no place to go.


“This is an easy way to take back a little money and put it in the budget,” Deskins said, “but I don’t think they thought about the effects it will have on out seniors.”


A new regulation in the senate’s budget reduces the required income level for seniors to be eligible for assisted living and special care services.


Currently, seniors can qualify for assisted living if they have a monthly income of $1,228 or under. If the senate’s budget passes, this requirement will be reduced to $973 and under. This leaves anyone making over $973 unable to qualify for assisted living.


Assisted living is a program that grants room and board to Medicaid recipients at assisted living facilities.


The proposed budget also reduces the requirements for special care programs such as  Alzheimer’s care units to a monthly income of $973 or less. The current requirement is $1,515. 


Any senior drawing an income of more than $973 will no longer be eligible for Alzheimer’s care if the senate’s budget passes.


According to Deskins, if the Senate’s budget passes, five of her current residents will most likely be forced to leave Forest Ridge Assisted Living.


“Currently, we have 16 Medicaid residents,” Deskins said. “If this goes through, on Jan. 1, five residents will no longer be able to stay with us.”


Of these five, three are in Forest Ridge’s Alzheimer’s unit, and need special assistance 24 hours per day. 


For these three, Deskins said they could reside with their family members, but their family members probably have jobs, children and other responsibilities, making 24-hour care virtually impossible. Also, most family members do not possess the training required to care for these three.


Two residents in Forest Ridge’s assisted living program will also lose their eligibility for care.


Deskins said one of these residents is a man in hospice, and his wife is also a resident of Forest Ridge. The man qualifies for assisted living through Medicaid, but has a monthly income of more than $973, outing him from the facility if the Senate budget passes.


However, the man’s wife pays privately for her care at Forest Ridge, meaning she will be able to continue residing at the facility, while her husband will no longer qualify.


Deskins said the man and his wife, along with another senior who will no longer be eligible, do not have any family in the area to take care of them.


“We don’t know what we’re going to do,” Deskins said about the five who won’t qualify for assisted living.


According to Deskins, the senators who proposed this budget didn’t consider the long-term consequences of their decision to change eligibility requirements for assisted living programs.


“This (budget) went through very quickly with no one thinking about the consequences,” Deskins said.



Economics


According to Deskins, this new set of cuts will also impact the ability of assisted living faculties to maintain their funding.


Deskins said Personal Care Service (PCS) will be defunded by 7.5 percent if this budget is passed, and then another 2 percent on Jan. 1.


Funding for PCS is currently $13.88 per hour to assist seniors with certain activities, like eating or using the bathroom. 


If the senate budget passes, the $13.88 per hour rate for services will be cut by 7.5 percent, down to $12.84 per hour. Then, another 2 percent cut at the start of next year will leave $12.58 per hour.


If a person requires the maximum of 80 hours of assistance per month, then PCS funding will grant $1,006 to Forest Ridge per month to take care of that person. 


When adding in the maximum qualifying income of $973, Forest Ridge is left with a max of $1,979 per resident to pay for the facility’s staff, food, operational costs; basically everything that keeps Forest Ridge up and running.


“If this budget passes, the dollar amount coming in to us won’t be enough to maintain this building,” Deskins said.


Another concern for Deskins is that with less funding coming in, assisted living facilities may have to shut their doors completely. This would be devastating to residents, but would also leave staff members unemployed.


This isn’t the first time assisted living facilities have faced cuts though.


According to Deskins, assisted living facilities already went through a set of budget cuts last year. However, the residents at Forest Ridge Assisted Living were barely affected, but this new set of cuts is likely to have a greater impact on residents.


In the coming weeks, the N.C. House of Representatives will present their own budget, which according to Deskins, could run counter to the senate’s.


The N.C. Appropriations Sub-committee on Health and Human Services could present their budget recommendations to the N.C. House of Representative as soon as Thursday, June 5, according to Deskins.


Deskins encourages anyone who is against cutting funding to assisted living facilities to write to their local representative.


For more information about Forest Ridge Assisted Living, or to learn more about funding for assisted living, visit http://www.ridgecare.com.

 
For more information and stories, see Ashe Mountain Times.