Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Elderly Waiting for Care; State Hopes Funds Let Programs Grow

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Elderly Waiting for Care; State Hopes Funds Let Programs Grow

Article excerpt

Byline: Dave Williams, Times-Union staff writer

ATLANTA -- Despite sluggish tax revenues, state health officials are asking to expand home and community-based care for Georgia's frail elderly and people with disabilities.

But advocates for those groups are worried that the money won't be there when Gov. Roy Barnes and the General Assembly tackle next year's budget.

"These things are on paper," said Grace Fricks, coordinator for Georgia's Unlock the Waiting Lists! Campaign, which works to reduce the state's persistent backlog for home and community-based care. "But it's hard to believe this is going to happen."

The state departments of Human Resources and Community Health have added about $18 million to their 2004 budget requests to increase the number of elderly and disabled receiving home and community-based care. Services would be expanded for those mentally retarded Georgians already in the state's community care program, but no new enrollees would be added.

The money -- $35.4 million, including federal funds -- would be used both to reduce the waiting lists for Georgians who aren't receiving any state-funded care and to move some nursing home residents into community care, part of the state's effort to comply with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Aside from the 1999 court requirement, advocates long have argued that the elderly, disabled and mentally retarded are better off physically and emotionally in home or community-based settings, as opposed to institutions.

Marty Smith, spokesman for the Department of Community Health, said the agency is doing the best it can, considering the economic climate. State tax revenues have declined 14 months in a row compared to the corresponding month the previous year, the longest downturn in Georgia since the 1950s.

"A lot of states have been more generous with their Medicaid programs and now are having to cut back on their expansions," Smith said. …

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