The Future of Caring For Our Elders

Nursing homes came into existence less as a necessity and more as a result of economic incentives. The construction of nursing homes in the United States skyrocketed after Medicaid benefits came into existence in 1965, coupled with low-interest Federal construction financing. Lumber companies and builders quickly became operators of nursing homes, cashing in on every possible angle in the rush to institutionalize our Elders. Federal and State-funded Medicaid now covers the costs of about 60 percent of all nursing home care in America.
Not all States bought into the perverse incentives which contribute to excessive Elder institutionalization. Arizona was the last state (1982) to offer Medicaid benefits and when they did, Arizona was already implementing a robust Home and Community Based Services program of care for the Elderly. Arizona’s alternatives to nursing homes have paid off for the State and its Elders! An Arizona resident age 65+ is half as likely to end up in a nursing home as a person living in Virginia. Virginia institutionalizes 3.5% of its Elders while only 1.6% percent of those ages 65+ live in Arizona nursing homes.

All of this is about to change in the Old Dominion State. Aging baby boomers will be pleased to know Virginia is one of the leading states in America in promoting Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (“PACE”) which are designed to dramatically reduce the need for nursing homes. PACE allows nursing home qualified participants to live safe and fulfilled lives at home through a network of community support services. Today there is a statewide network of 14 PACE service areas caring for over 1,000 Virginians. Over 25,000 of Virginia’s elders are still in nursing homes, but PACE is positioned to dramatically reduce this number over the coming years. An added benefit: PACE Costs taxpayers significantly less than traditional nursing home care.

The Roanoke Valley’s first PACE center opened last November in Roanoke County, with a five year plan to serve Elders from Bedford to Blacksburg. Kissito PACE expects to employ almost 500 new employees and contractors, each committed to help an expected 800 Elders avoid nursing home placement. The 50-year boom in nursing homes is coming to an end in Virginia, as we focus on improving the quality of life for our Elders while avoiding the high cost of institutional services.

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