Should Aging Gain Cabinet Status? You Must Decide Opponent Fears More Bureaucracy; Proponent Sees Need for More Clout
Theresa Tighe Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
WHETHER MISSOURIANS say yes to creating a Department of Aging - Constitutional Amendment 5 on the ballot Tuesday - will depend on how they view government.
Jean Everling, 70, a retired college professor, plans to vote no.
She said: "We have enough bureaucratic structure. Instead of spending the money on the elderly, we are spending it on bureaucrats' salaries." Joanne Polowy, 65, who retired last summer as manager of central operations for Missouri Division of Aging, intends to vote yes. She said: "I used to think making the Division of Aging a department was unnecessary. But now I think the head of aging has to have power to get cooperation from other departments." If passed by a simple majority, Amendment 5 would make the Division of Aging into a Cabinet-level department. As a department director, the top person would report directly to the governor. The director of the Division of Aging now is one of nine managers reporting to director of the Department of Social Services. Everling and Polowy have been involved with federal and state policy-making on aging for the last 20 years. Both work as volunteers to better the lives of the elderly. Everling helps with group meals and fitness programs in Liberty, a Kansas City suburb. Polowy, of Jefferson City, heads the Missouri Coalition for Quality Care and travels throughout the state trying to improve nursing-home, retirement-home and home-health care. In its last session, the Legislature passed a law putting the amendment on the ballot. That law specifies that the new department work force grow by 25 people to 725 from the 700 Division of Aging workers. The Legislature would have to pass a bill to authorize any spending or hires over those levels. 17 Different Agencies Supporters of the amendment hope to create one-stop-benefit shopping or at least one application form for those 60 and older who need state services. The elderly now must navigate 17 different agencies to get help they need. For example, the Division of Aging inspects nursing homes, investigates elderly abuse and neglect and provides a variety of services like rides, meals and help with housekeeping. The Department of Transportation is in charge of some ride programs. Elderly nursing home patients applying for Medicaid, the state and federal insurance program for the poor, must contact both the Division of Aging and the Division of Family Services. Aging handles medical eligibility. Family services evaluates financial need. Even those who want a Department of Aging say its success would depend on who heads it, for how long and how much support he or she gets. The division has had more than 10 directors in 16 years. With the change in leaders, Polowy said, sometimes a law passed by the Legislature never gets backed up by regulations or put into use. …