Helping Elderly Stay Home New Focus of Care

Article excerpt

Martha Paige, 79, enjoys her Mount Washington home all the more after having spent about 18 months in a nursing home.

"When they talked about my going home, I was so happy I didn't know what to do," she said, leaning forward in her wheelchair.

State and county officials have been working for the past four years to "re-balance" long-term care for the elderly so they can spend more of their final years at home or elsewhere in the community instead of in a nursing home bed, said Darlene Burlazzi, deputy administrator of the county's Area Agency on Aging.

In the past year, their efforts have moved about 200 people from nursing homes into non-institutional living arrangements, she said.

"We have been expanding home and community-based care," Burlazzi said.

Those increased services reflect a national trend that shows fewer elderly are living in nursing homes.

A USA Today analysis of Census figures showed that about 7.4 percent of Americans 75 and older lived in nursing homes in 2006, compared with 8.1 percent in 2000 and 10.2 percent in 1990. The Census doesn't have comparable figures on a state, county or city level for 2006.

Pennsylvania Department of Health figures show the number of nursing homes has dropped by about 13 percent between 2000 and 2006 and the number of nursing home beds has dropped by about 10 percent over the same period.

Burlazzi said Allegheny County started expanding support services for the elderly about 10 years ago because helping the elderly stay at home makes them happier and takes less tax money than subsidizing nursing home services.

The Pittsburgh area provides senior citizens with more options than most parts of the state because of the concentration of medical and social services in the area, she said.

One such service is the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's Living at Home Program. …