Caring for the Caregivers

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BUTLER TOWNSHIP, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) It is a growing challenge across the country, children taking care of their aging family members; usually their parents.

The children we are talking about are adults over the age of 50, folks who are planning for their own golden years but are now facing a potential financial challenge they did not see coming.

Eyewitness News Lead I-Team Reporter Andy Mehalshick takes a look at the issue in this special report called ‘Caring for the Caregivers’.

“If it wasn’t for my family I would have lost my house a long time ago,” said Pat James of Sugarloaf.

We heard the same concern from many of the folks here at the Butler Township Active Adult Center.

Pat James enjoys getting out and spending time with her friends, many of whom have physical challenges, but are able to stay in their own homes and receive the medical care they need thanks to the support of family.

“Mehalshick; if you had to go into assisted living or a nursing home how would you do it? How would you pay for it? James: well, I’d probably have to sell my house.”

That, senior advocates say, should not happen, but it’s a very real possibility for millions of American families.

“The aging population is increasing. People are living longer right now the baby boom generation is becoming older,” said Mary Ursick, Director of Wayne County Area Agency on Aging.

Mary Ursich is the director of the Wayne County Area Agency on Aging. It provides assistance for about 600 families.

Those services are limited because of limited funding, which puts financial pressure on the families of our older citizens.

“Some of these programs do require families to apply for medical assistance and some of them are a cost sharing program,” said Ursich.

Not everyone qualifies for it.

Ursich insists that federal and state government must do more to help the elderly facing health issues as well as their caregivers.

“I think lawmakers should think about increasing funding for personal care homes and for in-home services because it just is going to keep increasing,” said Ursich.

“We have people that are middle class that are going to lose their parent’s home,” said Rep. Tarah Toohil, (R) Luzerne County.

State Representative Tarah Toohil says she gets calls just about every day from men and women who worry about their own finances as they care for an elderly family member.

Toohil says many caregivers only become aware of financial strain after they take on the role.

There are options, for example, a family can apply for an ‘aging waiver project’.

Basically the state pays a relative to provide in home healthcare services, but there are income limits, assets worth no more than eight thousand dollars, and monthly income limits.

Aging waiver project:

  • Monthly income: $2,250 per month
  • Assets:  $8,000
  • not counting home and vehicle

Source: PA Dept. of Aging

The bottom line: many in this age group find that selling their home is the only way to qualify for assistance.

“Most people think there is some kind of maybe medical or insurance will pay or defray some of the costs. Unfortunately in this level of care there is no reimbursement,” said Thomas Sandrock, Assistant Administrator of The Laurels Senior Living Community.

The cost of assisted living can range in price from as little as $2,400 a month to $6,000 or more depending on the level of care.

  • Personal care homes:  $2,400 to $5,000/month
  • Nursing homes: $3,000 to 6,000/month

Source: PA Dept. of Aging

“I think that either on a federal or state level I think that they should come up with some kind of reimbursement program. It probably would not be that much per resident maybe 20 and 30 dollars,” said Thomas Sandrock, Assistant Administrator of The Laurels Senior Living Community.

The critical factor is planning.

“When you make that decision you want it to be the right decision,” said Thomas Sandrock, Assistant Administrator of The Laurels Senior Living Community.

The experts we spoke with all agree that this is a discussion you want to have now, years in advance of when you’ll actually need to implement it. Sometimes, the best way is to speak with an attorney specializing in advice for seniors.

There are also support groups for caregivers that can be reached through your county’s area agency on aging.

For more information visit the Pennsylvania Department of Agining online at http://www.aging.pa.gov/Pages/default.aspx

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