Opinion

Budget cuts could doom crucial Alzheimer’s care

An Alzheimer patient and his son strolling on the beach. (Photo: tonkid, via Shutterstock)

Every Californian has had their world disrupted because of the coronavirus, but some families have been hit disproportionately hard.

My uncle, a World War II Veteran, participated in an adult day program for over a year funded by Medi-Cal.  As a 94-year-old who has suffered from Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s for over a decade, he was able to thrive under their specialized care.

The program is extremely instrumental in the overall wellbeing for both of us. It is truly our hope and that of countless other family caregivers that funding not be reduced or eliminated from the upcoming California state budget.

Eliminating funding for adult day health care facilities that support Californians living with dementia and Alzheimer’s will make things will go from tough to impossible

My uncle’s program is too essential of a resource for the disabled and their caregivers who need them to survive.  And in my case, to continue working to support my family and prepare for my own retirement.  Pulling this lifeline during a pandemic has made an already difficult challenge even tougher.

If the governor’s proposed budget goes through to completely eliminate funding for adult day health care facilities that support Californians living with dementia and Alzheimer’s, things will go from tough to impossible for tens of thousands of families like mine.

To start, this governor and his administration are to be commended for their commitment to California’s senior population, and especially their hard work on behalf of families at the front lines of the nation’s Alzheimer’s crisis.

Gov. Gavin Newsom is the only governor to form a Master Plan for Aging, and he has committed to preventing and preparing for the Alzheimer’s crisis by establishing a task force headed by former First Lady and national Alzheimer’s champion Maria Shriver.

We know this governor deeply cares for our senior population, and he’s faced with impossible choices in closing a daunting budget deficit.

But the proposed budget would completely eliminate funding for Community Based Adult Services (CBAS) and the Multipurpose Senior Services Program (MSSP).  While overall proposed state budget spending decreased 5% in this budget, these proposals represents a 100% reduction – a complete elimination.

If these programs were to go away, it would leave thousands of families like mine with no alternative but to send our loved ones into high-cost nursing homes.

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, these two programs serve more than 40,000 older adults — meeting their health, nutrition, transportation, mobility and socialization needs.  Besides providing daily clinical and psychological support for Alzheimer’s patients, these programs also prevent, delay or altogether avoid nursing home placements, hospitalizations and homelessness.

They allow caregivers like me to care for our loved ones in our homes or their own homes, while giving us a break a few hours a day to allow us to work, attend to other responsibilities, or even just get a few hours of mental and physical respite — with the peace of mind knowing that our family members living with Alzheimer’s are safe and well cared for during the day.

If these programs were to go away, it would leave thousands of families like mine with no alternative but to send our loved ones into high-cost nursing homes. These are excruciatingly difficult emotional and financial decisions families like mine face – we don’t want that choice made for us to close a budget gap.

But especially in the midst of a health pandemic, it would create an untenable public health risk.

COVID-19 has shown that older adults are at greatest risk of contracting, suffering from and dying as a result of the virus. The vast majority (79%) of COVID fatalities are in licensed long-term care settings.

Eliminating these programs is also bad fiscal policy.

A large percentage of the state’s Medi-Cal beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s or dementia qualify for high cost institutional care.  An excellent alternative exists; instead, under the CBAS and MSSP programs they receive quality health services and personalized supports at a daily rate close to $75 as compared to well over $100,000 annually for the cost of a long-term care facility.

It has been said that budgets are a statement of our values. I know the governor and Legislature value our aging population, and especially the more than two million Californians directly impacted by dementia, either living with Alzheimer’s or caring for a loved one with the disease.

We respectfully urge the governor and Legislature to restore funding for these programs as they negotiate a final budget, to protect public health and the more than 40,000 families like mine who desperately need these essential local programs to survive.

Editor’s Note: William Preston is a resident of Fullerton

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