Florida has undermined its reputation as an attractive retirement destination for seniors by failing to provide enough resources for their long-term care. A new national study ranks Florida 43rd among 50 states and the District of Columbia in helping seniors live independently and stay out of nursing homes. As baby boomers get older, the need for long-term care services will increase exponentially, and the state is woefully unprepared to keep up with demand. Florida needs to ramp up its commitment to seniors by directing more money to programs and services that promote independent living. State leaders and the entire community play a role in ensuring that one of the state's most vulnerable populations gets the support it needs.
The study, a scorecard produced by AARP and other organizations that support long-term care, measured state-level performance in support of the elderly and the disabled across five dimensions. Florida, which has more seniors than any other state, ranked in the bottom quartile for caregiver support, quality of life and care and choice of setting and provider. Minnesota ranked highest, followed by Washington and Oregon.
Elder care experts say most seniors want to remain independent and live at home for as long as possible. That desire, coupled with the high cost of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and the private insurance to pay for those services, has spawned legions of at-home caregivers. In Florida, 2.8 million family members provide $29 billion worth of unpaid services, according to the AARP. Many juggle full-time work with child rearing and caregiving. Others risk health challenges themselves as they struggle to meet family members' needs. The state provides help through community-based care programs that help with things such as bathing, transportation and hot meals, but that falls short of what is needed at today's population levels. Those resources will be further strained as the number of elderly grows.
This year, lawmakers directed an additional $22 million to help with reducing wait lists for senior care programs, including an additional $5 million to community care for the elderly programs and another $2.3 million for hot meals. The state needs to dig even deeper. There are 55,000 Floridians on wait lists for home and community-based programs. Lawmakers also should find ways to create more support services for caregivers. Providing funding for caregiver support groups and respite opportunities are good places to start. Florida also would benefit from recruiting more home health care workers and allowing them to perform medical duties such as giving nebulizer treatments or inserting feeding tubes that now can only be performed by nurses or other family members.
Florida has a moral and financial responsibility to care for its seniors. But that task does not fall to lawmakers alone. The entire community should find ways to get involved and serve, as many programs that assist the elderly are in dire need of volunteers.
Floridians, regardless of age, cannot afford to distance themselves from the issue of inadequate long-term care. As time progresses, it is a challenge everyone eventually will face.