Elder-care advocates

Elder-care advocates announced formation of a coalition Tuesday that will seek improved wages, program funding and government policies concerning home-health aides as they face an alarming lack of people to fill those jobs in the North Country. Too few workers means family caregivers are even more burdened, and experts predict the condition will worsen in the next 15 years without significant change. Pictured (from left) are: Maria Alvarez, executive director of the New York Statewide Senior Action Council; Tina Pelkey, a Malone resident who is the main caregiver to her elderly, infirm parents; and Donna Beal, director of Mercy Care for the Adirondacks. Not pictured is coalition member Franklin County Office for the Aging Director Becky Preve.

MALONE — Elder-care advocates are taking the lead to address what they say is a horrendous lack of health-care aides to help seniors with everyday tasks.

And as the baby boomer generation continues to age and live longer, the partners say the gap between the number of those needing help and those available to give it will continue to widen.

The Franklin County Office for the Aging, Mercy Care for the Adirondacks and the New York Statewide Senior Action Council have joined in battle for better worker pay, improved government policies and additional program funding to combat the worker shortage.

GROWING NEED

The coalition’s work and goals to raise awareness and implement solutions are based on a 2014 action plan developed from brainstorming sessions involving a spectrum of health-and-medical and elder-care professionals from Essex and Franklin counties, the key areas Mercy Care serves, said Executive Director Donna Beal.

They need the public engaged in the fight because everyone is affected by the growing need for proper elder care now and well into the future.

Advocates say 13 percent of Franklin County’s population and 20 percent of Essex County’s population are now over age 65.

But by 2030, Franklin County’s number will grow to 21 percent and Essex County’s to 30 percent, which is above the average state population rate of 19 percent, the coalition says.

Beal said 4 out of 10 seniors who still live at home live alone, and half of those ages 80 to 89 live alone.

They want to remain in their own homes instead of at an assisted-living facility or nursing home, and coalition partners want to make that possible by ensuring home-health aides are available.

But low wages, lack of reliable transportation and inconsistent work scheduling discourages many people from seeking the available jobs, the advocates say.

GLARING GAPS

The problem is so widespread that one agency that works in both counties — North Country Home Services — was unable to provide needed basic-care assistance for hygiene tasks like bathing for clients between January and August this year even though they had insurance approval and the money to help the senior in need.

Filling those glaring gaps falls to the elderly person’s family, and it is usually women with careers and families of their own who take on the responsibility or who are forced to quit their jobs to be readily available to care for Mom or Dad.

Tina Pelkey of Malone is juggling those issues as a full-time social worker, and even though she does get some help through a service agency, she has had to move in with her parents to care for their growing needs.

The family is eligible for a total 44 hours of outside-aide care a week, but she said there have only been a few times when enough people have been available to fulfill the entire week’s work.

MORE VULNERABLE

And at some point soon, the advocates say, caregivers who quit work will need similar care of their own as they age but won’t be able to afford it because they will have missed prime earning years caring for their elderly loved ones.

Lack of workers also raises fears that seniors will be even more vulnerable because their needs aren’t being met, they have less social interaction and the chance of injury could increase, sending them to an emergency room or hospital bed.

And that, Beal said, goes against all of the national, state and local health-care objectives of lowering medical-related expenses for all taxpayers.

Email Denise A. Raymo:

draymo@pressrepublican.com

Twitter: @DeniseRaymo

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