AARP: To guard Michigan seniors from coronavirus, avoid nursing homes
Shifting public funds from nursing homes to home- and community-based care services will do more than offer Michigan’s seniors independence. It may protect them against COVID-19.
It’s one of the conclusions in a new report on inequalities facing Michigan residents over 50, written by AARP Michigan and Public Sector Consultants, a Lansing-based policy research firm.
For the 23-page report, “Disrupt Disparities 2.0.,” authors compiled data and research from multiple sources to build a case that long-term economic, social and racial inequalities disproportionately exposed Michigan’s seniors, especially minorities, to COVID-19 as it swept through the state.
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Many of those inequities are rooted in long-standing policy, said Paula Cunningham, state director of AARP Michigan.
For example, Michigan spends just 40 percent of its budget for long-term support and services on services that are home- and community-based — the kinds of services that allow people to remain outside of nursing homes. That compares to a national average of 57 percent, and it’s among the lowest percentages in the country, according to a 2018 Medicaid report.
“They want to age in place, and yet our state spends more money to send people to nursing homes than it would cost to have them stay in their own home, with the proper support,” Cunningham said.
The state listed 2,010 residents of nursing homes as “COVID deaths” as of Thursday — about 1 in 3 of the state’s 5,887 deaths, according to state data.
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Health disparities helped make many of Michigan’s seniors more vulnerable — including lack of access to good nutrition and healthcare among the state’s poor residents.
The report listed several solutions that authors said would allow Michigan’s seniors to age in place, save on medical costs, and draw $335 million in untapped federal funds. Among the recommendations:
Increase access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Just one-half of the state’s eligible seniors use those funds now, Cunningham said. Allowing online SNAP purchases also would increase access to healthy foods.
Expand high-speed Internet access and train seniors on the use of broad-band technology to allow access to telehealth services.
Allow nurses licensed elsewhere, but not in MIchigan, to practice in Michigan telehealth services through the interstate Nurse Licensure Compact.
These steps and others are “achievable” despite politics that can get in the way, Cunningham said: “It's a no brainer in my mind… This saves lives and helps people to do what they want, which is to age in place.”
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