About 200 advocates for older Virginians broke bread with area legislators recently and urged them to do more during the upcoming session of the General Assembly to help and protect their most vulnerable constituents.
The 20th annual legislative breakfast of the Northern Virginia Aging Network (NVAN) brought organizations such as AARP Virginia, INOVA hospitals and the Goodwin House together with state officials and lawmakers to focus on key spending and legislative priorities.
Among those priorities are:
· Appropriating just under $1 million to help bring the state’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program up to national standards.
· Requiring that eviction notices for residents include contact information for legal assistance.
· Enacting a comprehensive Medicaid dental benefit for adults.
· Requiring that long-term care workers receive a living wage, paid sick days, overtime pay and training.
· Clarifying the state’s guardianship code so that a clinical diagnosis alone is insufficient evidence for a finding of incapacity.
· Directing the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services to identify actions that could enhance the quality of life and health for those experiencing loneliness or isolation.
In addition to the NVAN priorities, AARP Virginia is urging lawmakers to support plans that would help workers, particularly in small companies, save for retirement. AARP Virginia is also urging legislators to provide income tax relief to help family caregivers cover some of their expenses.
Providing an additional nearly $1 million for the ombudsman program would only bring the state about half way to meeting the national standard for the number of ombudsmen needed. Nationally, there is one ombudsman representing the needs of every 2,000 residents of nursing homes, assisted living and long-term community care facilities. In some places in Virginia, the ratio is one ombudsman for 8,000 residents, said David Broder, NVAN legislative committee co-chair and president of SEIU Virginia 512.
“Our ombudsman system in Virginia is under-funded and under-staffed,” Broder said.
Ombudsmen “advocate for those who are very vulnerable … and speak for those who sometimes don’t have a voice” in their care, said Laura J. Nichols, director and long-term care ombudsman with the Northern Virginia Long-Term Care Program.
NVAN is advocating for legal assistance notices in eviction cases because of the top 10 cities nationwide for evictions, five are located in Virginia, said Jacquie Woodruff, legislative co-chair. Richmond ranks second in the nation.
“This is a particular problem for older residents, many of whom live on fixed income,” Woodruff said. She noted that many residents facing eviction don’t realize that legal assistance may be available and that in states that provide legal assistance eviction rates decline.
NVAN is seeking to clarify the guardianship code because too often a clinical diagnosis by itself can be used to declare an older person incapacitated. Such actions can deprive adults with dementia and other conditions of their rights, Woodruff said.
Noting that 25 percent of the population nationwide live alone, Woodruff said that in Virginia 37 percent of those over 60 live alone. Loneliness can lead to serious health complications such as dementia and depression. NVAN is urging the Department of Adult and Rehabilitative Services to identify state actions that could help reduce loneliness.
Providing Medicaid coverage for dental care can save the state money, Broder said, because chronic pain from gum disease has been associated with opiod abuse. Offering dental treatment can reduce such pain and hospitalizations caused by opiods.
“We have a dental crisis,” Broder said.