AARP Eye Center
Since the pandemic began, nearly a third of all Missourians who have died from COVID-19 have been nursing home and other long-term care residents.
So, in the next state legislative session, AARP will focus on helping families protect visitation rights and supporting alternatives to long-term care.
“We really saw residents decline physically and mentally due to the lack of social interaction” during the pandemic lockdown, says Nicole Lynch, grants and public policy coordinator at Voyce, an advocacy group for nursing home residents in St. Louis and northeastern Missouri.
When the General Assembly convenes on Jan. 5, AARP will push for allowing essential family caregivers access to long-term care facilities, even if other visitors are barred because of COVID-19 risk, says Jay Hardenbrook, advocacy director for AARP Missouri.
Lynch says that allowing loved ones to see residents can help improve the level of care for understaffed nursing homes. “They can fill in gaps in care that aren’t being provided right now and can prevent problems like bedsores before they get serious,” she says.
She also backs AARP’s push to have the state evaluate nursing homes’ efforts to improve staffing. Missouri ranks nearly last in the number of daily care hours per resident, according to Kaiser Family Foundation data.
Another priority for AARP is funding home- and community-based care as an alternative to nursing facilities. It has been working with the state Department of Health and Senior Services to increase access to such care, which helps people remain in their homes, by using some $200 million in federal aid available to Missouri from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
Also among AARP’s legislative priorities is improving retirement savings.
Many residents employed in the private sector have no way to save for retirement from their paychecks. AARP Missouri is working with state Treasurer Scott Fitzpatrick (R) and a bipartisan group of lawmakers to give small businesses access to a retirement savings pool organized through the treasurer’s office and managed by a financial investment company.
Last year an AARP-backed measure passed overwhelmingly in the House but stalled in the Senate. Hardenbrook is confident of passage in the next session.
Fitzpatrick, also a small-business owner, supports the voluntary program, which would be similar to the state’s 529 plan for education savings.
Businesses could choose whether to contribute to the retirement accounts, and employees could open one for themselves even if their employer doesn’t participate. Pooling all of the plans eliminates costs for businesses to set them up.
“A workplace retirement savings option would improve the opportunity for the smallest businesses in our state to provide their employees a path to save for their future, to help them achieve financial independence so they won’t have to depend on government programs in their later years,” Fitzpatrick says.
Another AARP priority is relief for older Missourians facing rising property-tax bills. AARP supports expanding assistance beyond low-income residents. Hardenbrook says the pandemic has made the need more urgent.
Tim Poor is a writer living in Clayton, MO.
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