Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Thousands of FL Seniors Die While Waiting for State Services

TALLAHASSEE, FL – They want assistance to stay in their homes as they age, but according to a new report, a lengthy waiting list for those services means thousands of Florida seniors are dying before they can get help.

The analysis from Politico found that in the fiscal year that ended in July of 2015, 6,500 frail seniors, including some with disabilities, died before they could receive services through the state that would help them live independently at home or in their community, rather than in an institutional setting like a nursing home.

That breaks down to more than 17 seniors per day, and Jack McRay, manager of advocacy for AARP Florida, questions why that number doesn't seem to resonate with lawmakers or the general public.

Read the Politico report

"If we had 17 people a day being killed in a terrorist attack, if there were 17 children dying a day, there'd be absolute outrage over it," he points out. "But when you talk about seniors, it's like, 'Well, they're going to die anyway.'"

While lawmakers have given a slight funding boost to these programs, which allowed for about 800 more slots for home and community based services, McRay notes that there are close to 59,000 people on waiting lists, and he expects that number will only rise, as the state has the fastest growing senior population in the nation.

McRay says making any sort of a meaningful dent in the waiting list won't happen until the legislature makes it a priority. He maintains if that happens, there will be benefits for all Floridians, not just seniors.

"They can still contribute in their family life, in their community life, and the outcome is just as good if not better than in institutional settings, it's less expensive, people are far happier in their homes and their communities," he stresses.

McRay adds that if there isn't more support directed toward easing the burdens of the millions of unpaid caregivers in the state, who are dedicated to keeping their loved ones in their homes, many will buckle under the strain.

"Ultimately, the state of Florida is going to have to pick up a significant portion of that," he states. "So it's in Florida's interest to help the caregivers keep people in their homes and communities. "

According to AARP Florida, the state's unpaid caregivers provide close to 2.5 billion hours of care each year, which translates to nearly $30 billion.

McRay says additional funding for programs such as Meals on Wheels and adult day care would go a long way toward preventing what's known as caregiver burnout.

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