In 1999, the Olmstead vs. L.C. Supreme Court decision ruled the disabled should have a choice to live outside institutions like nursing homes and mental hospitals.
Yet Florida, with the oldest population in the nation, lags way behind in funding home and community-based alternatives. There are 46 other states, and the District of Columbia, that allot more Medicaid money to non-institutional care. In 2012 the state dedicated about 35 percent of Medicaid funding to long-term care for home and community services — and that was an improvement over 26 percent a decade ago.
This past year the Legislature made a move to catch up by adding $5 million in general revenue funding and $12 million in Medicaid funding for those services. But that is only a drop in the bucket.
According to Dave Bruns, spokesman for AARP of Florida, there are 54,000 people on a state waiting list for home and community-based services.
Those people are not restricted to beds necessarily but have difficulty with daily tasks required to live by themselves. They do not need to be in a nursing home and certainly not in a mental institution.
But, barring having a family member who can care for them, a good number end up in those types of institutions.
And, the issue of family caregivers is another challenge that is somewhat unique to the state.
There are 2.7 million caregivers in Florida who, thankfully, look after a disabled or elderly loved one. That means one in seven people in Florida — population 19 million or so — take on that task.
And they have little help.
Eventually, Bruns said, they buckle under the daily challenge they face. If the state better funded respite care, Meals on Wheels, assistance with household chores or other programs to provide some relief, it would make a huge difference.
“The (caregiver) situation is the poster child for being penny wise and a pound foolish,” he said.
Florida, as we all are aware, will only get older in the coming decades. Between 1990 and 2030 the number of residents in the state over the age of 75 is expected to grow by 654 percent, according to the state’s own research.
The lack of action by the state will only result on a larger burden on programs financed by taxpayers to take on the task of caring for the elderly.
We believe this is a topic that any candidate for state office — including governor — should address.
There are ways, according to Bruns, to shift the burden off institutions for long-term care of the elderly.
Right now, Florida is just not doing enough and that is an embarrassment for the grayest state in the nation.
Golden years should not mean giving up your independence and ability to contribute because you are shut away from society, friends and family.
Florida’s mantra should be to provide more than warm weather and low-cost living for those baby boomers ready to retire. It should be able to trumpet that this state provides a quality of life after age 65 that is the envy of the nation.