ATLANTA -- Angel Irving Cobb, of Macon, said she never feels adequate as a caregiver for her mother, Zephyr Irving.
Cobb, 66, shares a home with the 94-year-old and worries about the health and safety of both of them.
A few years ago when Irving broke her leg, which already was arthritic, Cobb moved in with her as her caretaker. Their home needs repairs and weatherization. And Cobb, once a co-host on WMAZ-TV’s “Let’s Talk it Over,” has her own health issues, including a lupus diagnosis.
A home aide visits Cobb and Irving’s house twice a week for two hours at a time, but Cobb still worries about everything that needs to be done.
“The worst feeling, I think, is when you can’t depend on your own body,” Cobb said. “So on the days that I don’t feel well ... who prepares the meals? That’s a scary feeling.”
Thousands of people statewide share that feeling, if not about supper or a wobbly stair rail, then about day-to-day activities that get harder with age, from bathing to housecleaning.
If hired help is too expensive, there are other options. But the price is a wait.
Some 13,200 Georgians sit on the waiting lists of the state’s Area Agencies on Aging for services like Meals on Wheels, personal care, homemaker services or respite care.
The number of clients served most recently peaked in 2012 at nearly 35,700, according to the governor’s latest budget report. In fiscal 2014, the clients numbered about 31,500.
In Bibb County alone, the waiting list was 573 people deep last week, and Houston County’s waiting list was 177, said Julie Hall, interim director of the Middle Georgia Area Agency on Aging. Some have applied for more than one service, so the actual demand is larger. She said it’s a little down from last year’s numbers, but not by much.
“The honest truth is there is more demand for these services than there are at this time funds available,” Hall said. “And that’s how the waiting lists come into play.”
When someone calls her office asking for these in-home services, people with the greatest needs go to the front of the line.
The services benefit the client as well as the caregiver, Hall said.
“If you have a paid (respite) caregiver coming in, let’s just say ... one day a week, that’s time that caregiver, the unpaid caregiver, the family member has that they can go get their hair done, do the laundry, go see the doctor, go to the grocery store and not have to worry about their loved one.”
They can also go to work without worrying. Some 61 percent of family caregivers of older adults have a job, according to the Georgia Council on Aging.
A visit from a professional also helps ease the embarrassment of parental dignity meeting the bathroom and shower. Hall put it gingerly: “If you have, say your mother, and you happen to be the only child and you’re a son, there are issues ... personal issues where your mother may want a paid caregiver to help her with certain daily needs.”
WHAT TO DO AND WHY
It would be good value for money if the state appropriated an additional $10 million of the roughly $19 billion state budget for next year to those kind of senior services, said Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging, an appointed body meant to advise the governor and Legislature on aging issues.
That new sum “would take 5,000 people off the waiting list,” Floyd said.
It costs the state $1,884 annually to provide a person with Home and Community Based Services, or HCBS in the lingo, according to numbers from the aging council. Compare that with $13,200 annually for a Medicaid nursing home bed. Both figures refer only to the state share of the bill. Various federal matching funds kick in more.
On average, HCBS delay a person’s entry into a nursing home by 50 months, according to the aging council.
That is value for money, Floyd said. In the fiscal year that ended last June, a total of 470 people “gave up and went to the nursing home,” she said.
But for every budget dollar, there are many other claimants. Legislative leadership is trying to find more than $1 billion for road and bridge works alone. Gov. Nathan Deal’s draft budget proposes cutting $1 million from HCBS services, bringing the line item to about $111 million. In budget hearings scheduled for this week, the aging council will advocate for a $10 million increase instead.
Cobb said she wants to find ways to take action.
“There are a variety of services older and disabled Americans need. ... It’s not so they can take a yacht or a vacation. It’s for survival.”
Hall said older Georgians or those with disabilities who are looking for services from assisted living to veterans transportation programs should call the state directory hotline. They list both nonprofit and for-profit services statewide. The website is www.georgiaservicesforseniors.org and the toll-free phone number is 866-55-AGING.
The phone number for the Macon Area Agency on Aging office is 478-751-6466.