The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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June 19, 2014

Coalition to look for affordable ways to provide senior services

CHARLESTON — West Virginia’s elder population has a new coalition focusing on health care needs for senior citizens.

Phil Schenk with the West Virginia Partnership of Elder Living told lawmakers the state is experiencing a drastic change now, which will only accelerate as baby boomers get older.

“The impact on the economy is hard to overstate,” Schenk said.

His organization is working with AARP and other stakeholders as WVFACT, West Virginia Future of Aging and Caregiving Task Force.

About 16 percent of the state’s population has senior citizen status now, he said. In addition, the state’s seniors are some of the poorest and least healthy in the country.

The coalition plans to examine their needs and find new, affordable ways to serve the population.

Schenk said the coalition will begin with what systems are working for seniors and build from there.

Gaylene Miller from AARP told the committee the economic impact of expanding the aged and disabled waiver program meant about 7,000 West Virginians are being served, but another 2,000 remain on a waiting list.

The program costs $163 million, $47 million of which is from state funds. The remainder comes from the federal government, she said.

That spending generated $285 million and created 3,665 jobs, she said, with $121 million in employee compensation annually, amounting to $5.5 million in total tax revenue.

But one in six state residents serve as caregivers, providing billions of dollars of unpaid care, usually for family members, she said.

Miller said the state has an opportunity to change, and can become a national leader by building an integrated care system; however, she said the labor force is getting smaller and the need for elderly assistance is “growing at its fastest rate in history.”

Committee co-chair Delegate Don Perdue, D-Wayne, said the state could embrace some of these issues with economic development in mind.

“(The state) could become a destination for elders who need care,” Perdue said.

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