State attempts to save $3.8 million are not wearing well on some seniors in Southwest Minneapolis.
During the last legislative session, lawmakers tried to tamp down on the rising cost of paying for assisted living facilities by delaying the time at which state Medicare programs kick in. The cost-cutting measure makes older adults moving into an assisted living facility receive counseling about cost-saving options in a phone interview, and receive a numerical verification code, even if they are using private money to pay for assisted living or long term care.
Now, in the most vulnerable time in a person’s life, seniors say they resent the presumption that their housing fate could be reduced to a checklist and phone call.
“I’d rather that God take me to his house,” said Evelyn Arbo, 74, looking forlorn over her lunch at the .
State: We're offering cost-saving alternatives
Rep. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, says the government is trying to save people like Arbo money by offering them suggestions on how to buy as much independence as possible for as long as possible, he said.
Seniors may otherwise be persuaded by a friend or by advertising to move into an expensive facility in the burgeoning assisted living industry. The average cost in Minnesota is $37,000 a year for assisted living and $67,000 for nursing home care. When the senior's money runs out, though, the state has to take over.
“But a senior can save money and stay at home longer,” said Abeler, “if a visiting nurse can help with a bath, or Meals on Wheels brings food, or they know about free companion services, a friend to come and play cards once in a while.”
Seniors: It's impersonal and dishonoring
Pat Marentic, 70, who lives in a triplex on the 4300 block of Bryant, would like help knowing how to stay there.
“I still drive and like having a garage, and the building is quiet. Seniors need more access to people who can help," she said. "There’s so much information out there that it’s getting confusing.”
Still, local seniors say the over-the-phone counseling is a poor, impersonal, and dishonoring way to handle such a monumental life decision.
Jeanete Weeks, 64, who lives at the Tree Top apartments at 35th and Bryant Ave, is irked that the decision to require a consultation was made by Governor Mark Dayton and other officials behind closed doors, without any public input or dialogue.
“How would they know what we need?” asked Weeks. “I’m cynical about all of this.”
“I’d rather have Linda explain my options than a counselor I don’t know,” said Vern Maetzold, 75.
Seniors: We want a flesh-and-blood alternative
Every senior at the Center spoke of Social Worker Linda Walker as their trusted advocate and helpful educator, like a beloved daughter.
“People in the Southwest can come here and receive her help, but most senior centers and assisted living facilities do not have a Linda,” said Senior Center Director Mary Ann Schoenberger.
“United Way (who does not run the Senior Center) pays for her to advise on housing options, explain Medicare Part D, organize people’s drugs, and answer any question they have," said Schoenberger. "She stays up on all the regulations.”
It’s not that the information a Senior Link representative gives would not be helpful, the seniors said. In fact, one can opt out of the counseling. But as budget cuts remove social workers from senior centers and schools, and the population ages, these Southwest seniors cautioned against the trend toward replacing the hand on a shoulder, the smile of friendship, and the listening ear.
“We have to have somebody we trust,” said Marentic. “When I have to move, I will rely on Linda.”