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AARP Michigan Tackles Gaps in Long-Term Care

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As the new legislative session gets underway in Lansing this month, AARP Michigan will seek support for a plan to increase resources for family caregivers across the state, both virtually and in person.

The plan would expand or create caregiver resource centers within each of the state’s area agencies on aging and include a statewide website with evidence-based educational and training materials.

In-person resources would include counseling, help connecting with in-home services and local respite care, and classes on topics such as stress management, self-care and dementia. The Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan estimates the cost of launching these resources—including outreach to build public awareness—at $16.8 million.

“Caregivers are the single largest provider of long-term care for adults living at home, and typically they’re the first defense against older Michiganders being admitted to hospitals or forced to move into nursing homes,” says Melissa Seifert, AARP Michigan associate state director for government affairs.

In 2020, Michigan had an estimated 1.73 million family caregivers, according to the nonprofit Center for Health and Research Transformation at the University of Michigan.

The idea for the caregiver resource centers came out of AARP Michigan’s involvement in a project run by the nonprofit Center for Health Care Strategies, which brought together states to discuss how to support families as the country’s population rapidly ages. They worked to identify how to help various groups, such as individuals caring for loved ones with dementia, caregivers who are people of color and individuals living in rural areas, says Courtney Roman, senior program officer at the center.

“The goal was to identify opportunities for the state to reach more caregivers and connect them to support and services,” Seifert says.

In-home services

AARP this year is also urging lawmakers to shift more funding for long-term care toward services that can be provided where people want to receive them—in their homes and communities—instead of institutions such as nursing homes.

Michigan ranks among the bottom third of states on this measure, according to AARP’s latest Long-Term Services and Supports State Scorecard. In 2020, Michigan spent 29 percent of its Medicaid long-term care funding for older people and adults with physical disabilities on home- and community-based services, compared with a national average of more than 50 percent. California ranks No. 1 with 83 percent of funds spent on HCBS instead of institutions.

Increasing access to home- and community-based services allows people to get help with daily tasks such as bathing, organizing medications, and cooking and cleaning, Seifert says.

In addition to helping more older adults remain at home, such services also save the state money by keeping individuals out of more costly institutions, she says.

A 2021 AARP survey found that roughly three-quarters of U.S. adults 50 and older want to remain at home or in their communities for as long as possible.

Financial security

Another AARP legislative priority in 2024 is advocating for the creation of a state-facilitated retirement savings program. Such a program would allow private sector workers without access to a retirement plan through their employers to contribute money from their paychecks into an IRA. Access to retirement plans through work is particularly low for those at smaller companies.

Small business owner Kari Vanderheuel says she would love to offer a state-facilitated retirement savings program to her 20 to 30 employees at The Red Fork Restaurant in Greenbush and nearby Alcona Coffee Co. shop in Harrisville.

“I can’t offer health insurance, I can’t offer a lot of things,” Vanderheuel says.

Mary Van Beusekom, a writer living in Excelsior, Minnesota, covers caregiving, fraud and other issues. She has written for the Bulletin for 12 years.

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