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DSS Statewide Respite Program Affected By Connecticut Budget Deficit

February 4, 2010

This is the first of a 2-part story regarding the DSS Statewide Respite Program.

Part 1

Connecticut’s red ink affects everyone, even residents with Alzheimer’s, dementia-related disorders and their caregivers.

These caregivers and their families rely on the Statewide Respite Program. The program, which is under Connecticut’s Department of Social Services, “provides respite care for people with Alzheimer’s disease or related disorders, regardless of age, who are not enrolled in the Connecticut Homecare Program for Elders (CHCPE).” It began under then-Gov. William O’Neill’s Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease in 1989. Click here for the report.

In April 2009, the Connecticut General Assembly passed an expansion of this program and a similar bill in the state Senate passed unanimously, which Gov. Rell signed May 27, 2009. If caregivers could “demonstrate a need for additional services,” they could receive up to $7,500 per year – pending appropriations decisions. The prior law allowed a maximum of $3,500. Both DSS and the Connecticut chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association say that $2.2 million has been appropriated for this program. However, this memo from Pamela Giannini, Director, Bureau of Aging, Community, and Social Work, says that, as of Jan. 26th, caregivers who have been screened as part of this program will be capped at $3,500. DSS spokesman David Dearborn also said the program was closed to new applicants May 11, 2009 — two weeks before Rell signed the bill — and will not be accepting new applicants for the remainder of this year because of the budget.

An analyst at the Connecticut General Assembly’s Office of Fiscal Analysis says, “The increase cap was an “up to” situation.  We did not provide any additional funds to provide more services, so DSS never implemented the cap change.” When asked whether they will provide the funds to DSS to provide additional services in the respite program, the response was, “The Gov’s budget reduces this account by $1 million.”

It concerns the Connecticut chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, who say the closure of the program to new enrollees eliminates a vital lifeline to their caregivers.

“$2.3 million is appropriated by the legislature for FY 2010 but Gov. Rell proposes $1.1 million in budget cuts and closed the program to new enrollees as of the end of April 2009,” says Laurie Julian, public policy director for the Alzheimer’s Association.

Politicians aren’t happy that the program is closed to new enrollees, either.

“We have to pass a bill that opens that program to new enrollees,” State Sen. Edith Prague (D-Columbia) says. “We have to mandate by law that be open. There’s $42 million in Campaign Finance Reform fund. Do politicians want their money spent on their re-election campaigns, or do they want their money spent on programs like this to keep their loved ones at home? We need $5 million to open this program to people on the waiting list.”

“We’re going to re-establish that program,” Prague says. “There are some things that should not be cut, and that respite care program saves the state a lot of money.”

It’s unclear how many people are on the waiting list; the five Agencies on Aging report those statistics to DSS.  “There were over 900 families served by this program last year;  the waitlist has been as high as 270, but varies since the level of urgency for some families necessitates their placement into long term care institutions and the Connecticut Homecare Program for Elders,” Dearborn says. “In addition, the closure of intake of the program has reduced the number of new referrals to the program.”

Maureen McIntyre, Assistant Director at the North Central Agency on Aging says there are 69 people currently on the program’s waiting list in her area. The agency has done a pre-screening of all applicants, McIntyre says, but no funds have been allocated yet.

“The people that are on our waiting list are looking at other options, and staying on if the program opens up again,” McIntyre says. “We want to make sure that people do call us to explore other options besides the respite program. We don’t want people to suffer silently or be discouraged from seeking assistance because they know this program is closed to new applicants.”

Julian is concerned about what a less-effective program means for the people and caregivers that rely on its services.

“You may be saving money today but down the road, it’s going to cost millions more in nursing home care costs. The intent of the program is to keep people at home, and it’s just delaying further costs down the road.”   Julian says, referring to Gov. Rell’s office. “The program has achieved what it has set out to do – relieve stress on caregivers –prevent premature nursing home care institutionalization – It provides and expands services for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease so they can reside in the community, which is the overarching goal of transitioning from long-term nursing home care.” Rell’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Here are some Connecticut links and resources. As always, you should check applicable programs in your state.

Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders (CHCPE) 1-800-445-5394.

The Benefits CheckUp website.

National Family Caregiver Support Program

The Connecticut Statewide Respite Care Program

If you have any questions about this post or need help finding senior-care options for a loved one, call 1-866-483-4896 to speak with a care advisor in your area.

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