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Bill Directing DSS to Re-Open Statewide Respite Care Program to New Patients Clears Hurdle

March 3, 2010

The Select Committee on Aging has unanimously passed a bill regarding the DSS Statewide Respite Care Program. Under this bill, the Committee has requested a transfer of $2.3 million from the Citizens Election Fund to DSS so that the respite care program could be re-opened to new enrollees. This would impact caretakers of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease. How your legislators voted

The Select Committee on Aging held a public hearing on Feb. 16th, where this bill was raised. This bill was referred to the joint Committee for Human Services on Feb. 22. Brie Johnston, the clerk for the committee, says, “I have the bill in my possession and it could be acted on as early as March 4th.”

The bill says, “Such respite care services may include, but need not be limited to (1) homemaker services; (2) adult day care; (3) temporary care in a licensed medical facility; (4) home-health care; (5) companion services; or (6) personal care assistant services.”

Sen. Edith Prague (D-Columbia), a member of the committee, said she has had difficulty garnering support for this bill because of negative feedback. She says she is pressing on because the issue is really important to her.

“The respite program has been closed to new members since last spring,” Prague says. “There are 300 people on the waiting list. Caretakers struggle to take care of family members with Alzheimer’s. When the caretakers don’t get respite, they get sick.”

“We absolutely must fund this program,” Prague continued. “Spending money on this program is more important than giving politicians money for their campaigns. I support the campaign fund but not at this time when we can’t support anything else.”

Laurie Julian, public policy director for the Connecticut chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, was pleased with the result.

“The Alzheimer’s respite care program makes sense,” says Julian. “It is good for the patient, for families and makes business sense. It saves millions in Medicaid nursing home delays, and preserves jobs in the healthcare industry while protecting the patient and caregiver’s health. “

Mag Morelli, the President of Connecticut Association of Not-for-Profit Providers for the Aging (CANPFA) is hopeful the bill will be part of the budget, although she added, “It’s been hard to get anything this session.”

“I don’t know if people realize how much care is given by informal caregivers,” Morelli says. “This respite care program is a small piece that the state can provide to allow caregivers to care for Alzheimer’s patients. It saves the state something like a billion dollars keeping people out of nursing homes.”

In a sufficiency report written in December 2009, the State Elections Enforcement Commission, whose Public Financing Unit oversees the Citizens Election Program, wrote: “Currently, the Commission finds that the CEF has sufficient resources for certain plausible scenarios for the 2010 election cycle. Without any additional cuts, the CEF should have at least $38 million for the 2010 election cycle. Therefore, the Commission has not identified an insufficiency at this time. However, the CEF is at a critical point—any further reductions would risk the State’s ability to fund campaigns for statewide and General Assembly candidates in 2010…To date, $38.5 million has been swept from the Program to mitigate the State’s budget deficit.

Beth Rotman, the Director of the Citizens’ Election Program, says the December report does not take into account Gov. Rell’s deficit reduction plan, which calls for an additional $12 million in cuts to the fund.

“Of course, the Commission is not in a position to judge the relative merit of different programs that I’m sure are worthy of funding,” Rotman says. “Public financing has been called “change that makes change possible.” We believe this program makes it possible for legislators to make the right decisions and we understand they make difficult ones every day.”

Rotman says the Citizens Election Program helps legislators make decisions free of special interests’ influence and says it costs the state more money when legislators make decisions for the wrong reasons.

The state’s Department of Social Services declined to take a position on the bill.

“The bill will go to another committee or committees, and the department may offer comment or testimony at that time,” spokesman David Dearborn says. “Our agency does not have cognizance over the citizens’ election fund.”

DSS has encouraged people interested in enrolling to seek guidance regarding their options, including the Connecticut Homecare Program for Elders while they wait to see if the respite program will be opened to new enrollees again.

When asked how many people in the respite program DSS referred to CTHPE from May 2009 to present, Dearborn says, “The number of individuals on the Connecticut Statewide Respite Care Program referred to the Connecticut Home Care Program for Elders during this period was approximately 350 statewide.” Here is the brochure for that program.

Previously, wrote a two part story on how the Statewide Respite Care program had been closed to new enrollees as of May 11, 2009. We’ll keep you posted.

Story: DSS Statewide Respite Care Program Affected by Connecticut Budget Deficit

Story: Local Resident Hopes to Help Others Understand, Cope with Alzheimer’s

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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