Sunday, March 4, 2012

Memory Day – Capitol Here We Come

Wednesday was Memory Day and hundreds of advocates converged on the Missouri State Capitol. After being briefed on the issue we were to discuss with our legislators, we donned our purple Alzheimer’s Association “beauty queen” banners and set off to deliver packets.

My favorite part of Memory Day is meeting with other advocates who have become my friends over the years. Along with people that I expected to see, I noted a familiar face in the group surrounding Linda Newkirk, the executive director of the Mid-Missouri Chapter.

“Aren’t you in the wrong group?” I asked Evelyn a fellow Business Women of Missouri member.

“I’ve been involved in the walk for years,” she said as I gave her a hug. This wasn’t the first trip to Memory Day for either of us, but somehow this was the first time we had noticed each other.

Before heading out to our appointments, we helped honor some members of our state government who have moved our cause forward. First up was Lt. Govenor Peter Kinder who served as the chairman of the Missouri Alzheimer’s Plan Task Force. An executive summary of this plan was included in the packet for the legislators. This report crafted by the 19-member task force gives some of the highlights of the past year.

The Missouri Alzheimer’s chapters awarded Leadership of the Year Awards to Senator Kurt Schaefer and Representative Margo McNeill. Patti, Janie and I had to leave before the ceremony ended to be on time for our first appointment.

We had only one priority this year: increase the Alzheimer’s Service Grants to $300,000. In 2006, we received $539,000. This was reduced 25% in 2010, and this year’s budgeted amount is $150,000. These grant funds were used by the Missouri Chapters to provide respite care for families with loved ones living at home.

I can speak from experience about the importance of respite funding. The only financial help we qualified for was respite from our local chapter. Jim was too young to qualify for any of the senior services that are in place to help the elderly.

Most of the legislators were sympathetic to our request to reinstate Service Grants, but as one aide put it, “Tell us where the money is going to come from and we might consider it.” I’m sure they have groups knocking on their door every day asking for more funding, or at least to not have funding cut. It seems like senior services are often the first items to hit the chopping block.

I was more impressed with my representative, Calib Jones, who took time to sit and talk with us, although he was on his way to a committee meeting. After we explained the shortfall, he said, “I’m not on the budget committee, but I’ll certainly talk to someone who is.”

It would seem to be a logical choice to fund respite to help caregivers keep their loved ones at home longer. Sixty percent of Missourians placed in nursing homes depend on Medicaid to pay for their care. Isn’t it more logical to spend $2.45 per year for each of the 110,000 Missourians who have Alzheimer’s than it is to spend on the average more than $51,000 per person for nursing home care? With nursing home care calculated at roughly $140 per day, if 307 people delayed going into a nursing home for one week, the state would break even.

After a whirlwind of visits, we went outside and lined up on the steps for a photo op. The strong wind not only sent hair flying out of control, but nearly gusted some of the advocates right off the steps.

I was tired after the visits and my feet hurt. On the walk back to my hotel room, I thought about how necessary it is to get boots on the ground for such an important service. Hopefully, the economics of providing respite care make sense to the legislators, and when they vote on the budget they will remember purple banners and the advocates who came to visit on Memory Day 2012.

Copyright © March 2012 L. S. Fisher

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