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Archive for Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Care options

A new emphasis on community-based care is sure to be welcomed by Kansans who are elderly or have physical disabilities.

October 10, 2006

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The last place most people want to end up is in a nursing home. Even if it's a clean, well-run facility with a caring staff, there's not much about it that feels like home.

In some cases, there may not be much choice for a frail elderly person who needs round-the-clock supervision, but a new federally funded program that will support moving elderly and disabled Kansans into less restrictive living situations certainly will be applauded by many.

Officials at the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services are seeking to tap into $1.75 billion the federal government has earmarked to move people from institutions to community homes. The state has applied for a grant to provide matching funds to help pay for food, medications and other expenses related to moving people into community homes.

The emphasis on living in the "least restrictive facility" has been a trend for people with developmental disabilities for some time. It's great to see the same principle being applied to elderly Kansans and to younger residents who have been forced into nursing homes because of physical disabilities or injuries.

For some people, the most appropriate choice will be a home setting that serves a small group of residents. However, some who work with the state's aging population also hope the federal program will provide additional resources for people who might be able to stay in their own homes or with a relative if more home health or day care services were available.

As Craig Kaberline, executive director of the Kansas Area Agencies on Aging pointed out, "Sometimes you get into small rural communities, and there's a choice of nursing home or nothing." Providing more options and more opportunities could accommodate people who want to stay in their homes, while also saving the state money.

Moving more people into community-based care will have challenges. Finding sufficient well-trained staff already is difficult for many nursing homes, and the same is likely to be true for less restrictive facilities. It's also important that the Kansas Department of Aging make good on its commitment to track people who move out of large facilities to make sure they are well treated and receiving the care they need.

Among the requirements of the federal program is that the state prove that community-based care is less expensive than care provided in an institution. While officials say that often is the case, it's important that moving people from institutions to community homes not be undertaken primarily as a cost-cutting measure. Less restrictive care often is less expensive, state officials say, but providing a better way of life for the elderly and disabled should be the primary goal.

Everyone likes to have choices. There probably always will be a need for nursing homes in Kansas, but providing more care options in the state will contribute to the dignity and quality of life for elderly and disabled Kansas residents.

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