Change Is Difficult For Senior Citizens

Officials in the Bobby Jindal administration have upset executives and members of councils on aging all across this state. They are troubled by the governor’s plan to move them from his Office of Elderly Affairs to the state Department of Health and Hospitals.

Senior citizens don’t like surprises, and this one came out of nowhere. Take it from one who happens to be an older American. Our segment of society is seeing its numbers increase with time, and that’s good news. It means we are living longer — and liking it. So don’t rock our boats.

Unfortunately, there are many in our age bracket who have to depend on others for their everyday living, medical and other needs. That is where the councils on aging come in. They do a great job serving seniors in many critical areas.

The Calcasieu Council on Aging last year provided more than $860,000 to help 600 seniors get their prescription medications free or at reduced cost. During the 2011-12 fiscal year, the local council will serve about 110,000 meals through its Meals on Wheels program. It delivers some 760 meals daily.

The council teamed with Entergy to provide cooling fans and assistance in paying electric bills for older residents. It worked with Citgo to distribute 24,000 energy-efficient light bulbs to low-income residents.

The state’s Ombudsmen Program that is overseen regionally by the Calcasieu council handles complaints and is an advocate for improvements in the long-term care system. The program covers six parishes and ombudsmen visit 22 nursing homes and four assisted-living facilities monthly.

“Often we’re in them more than once because of problems. That’s what we do,” Charles Campbell, ombudsman coordinator, told the American Press in a recent interview.

Area councils on aging sponsor special events like Mardi Gras balls, health screenings, defensive-driving courses, luncheons and fellowship gatherings so that senior citizens can keep in touch. These are just a sample of the many services that senior citizens depend on that they want to see continue. Maybe they will if the councils are moved to DHH, but it’s the unknown that’s troubling to older Americans.

State Sen. Dan “Blade” Morrish, R-Jennings, got to the heart of the issue and explained why senior citizens are concerned.

“No one has given me some believable reason to move them,” he said. “I haven’t heard that the (councils on aging) are inefficient, or that people are unhappy about it. I think we’re just creating a problem where there’s not one.”

The fact that a state senator was caught off guard speaks volumes about the poor job the governor’s administration did in preparing everyone for this major move.

Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, said, “With the budgetary process, you never know what might take place. Cuts normally come down on higher education and health care. If they were under (DHH), they would have some concerns of their funding being affected.”

Kathy Kliebert, a DHH deputy secretary, has become the point person on this proposed agency switch. She said there are no plans to change funding or administration for local council on aging offices.

Orleans area council on aging directors told the Times-Picayune what it was like when the Bureau of Aging was regulated by DHH in the 1970s.

“It really didn’t function well because of the bureaucracy,” said Howard Rogers of the Orleans agency.

Al Robichaux, director of the Jefferson Council on Aging, said, “We were under DHH many years ago, and I was told by my predecessor to never allow that to happen again. There was all kinds of red tape.”

Kliebert says that was another time and a different setup.

“It’s really comparing apples and oranges,” she said.

Jacqueline Green, director of the Calcasieu council, said the vagueness of the proposal is troubling and it came as too much of a surprise.

“I don’t feel like we would be dead set against it if (DHH) could prove what it could benefit. It should be sold to the people that provide the service to them and the seniors that benefit from this service.”

Gov. Jindal has thrown a number of bombs lately. The state’s Medicaid system is undergoing a major transition that will see private companies direct much of its operations. Then, there’s his education reform package. Next came his proposal to revamp the retirement system for state employees. The governor also wants to sell state prisons and turn others over to private operators. And now the council on aging swap.

Senior citizens don’t have anything against progress. However, when they see something as a potential threat to their security and welfare that is so critical in their declining years they can’t help but be disturbed. The administration should have brought them into the deliberations that led to this point. Selling the idea is tougher now since it appears the decision to go ahead has already been made.

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the Lake Charles American Press, has covered people and politics for more than ÿve decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or [email protected].

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