West Virginia’s aging population finds at least 500 older residents on a waiting list for government-led services that likely would run up a combined bill of $10 million, officials disclosed Wednesday.

In current practice, the federal government would pick up about three-fourths of the tab, but with seniors making up the fastest growing segment of the population, those on waivers are apt to increase, Bureau of Senior Services Commissioner Robert Roswall cautioned lawmakers.

In the same appearance before a joint meeting of government organization and operations committees, Roswall told Sen. Ron Miller, D-Greenbrier, he is working on getting Fayette County an independent agency to handle concerns of seniors.

On the job about four months, Roswall couldn’t break down the locales of those on the waiting list, but told reporters afterward that more than likely they aren’t in nursing homes.

“Young people have been leaving for years,” he said, when asked to explain the rapid graying of West Virginia.

“I think you probably had a big boomer population coming into West Virginia, and they tend to stay here. A lot of the people that were older stayed here. They did not leave and go to Florida and North Carolina.”

For the next five years, he said, the ranks of seniors will increase.

“We had some major shifts in the Eastern Panhandle and central West Virginia — Harrison County, Marion, Monongalia and over to the Eastern Panhandle. Losses were primarily in the coalfield areas of southern West Virginia.”

At $20,000 per senior, the estimate cost of those on the waiting list would need some $10 million in funding.

“You’re going to have a federal-state match,” Roswall said.

“It’s not going to be all state funds. But it’s a difficult time to try to find that kind of money out there.”

Roswall advised Miller the bureau wants to see Fayette County regain its status an independent agency, rather than have programs administered by Putnam and Raleigh counties.

“It has a very old history that Fayette has been penalized for.” he said.

“It’s an operation we would like to change.”

About two decades ago, he said, funds were misappropriated, with property and money put up as collateral for an individual’s operation.

Bankruptcy ensued, and that led to a foreclosure on the facilities, he said.

“The state then funded through Putnam County to purchase that facility back, so you paid for that facility twice at this point,” he said.

“Fayette is probably still paying for those issues from 20 years ago.”

By Oct. 1, when contracts are entered into, Roswall said his agency hopes to work something out in Fayette.

Financial officer Terry Hess noted the agency’s funding went from $55.5 million in 2004 to $93.1 million in the current budget. Of that figure, some $42 million is dedicated to the Medicaid transfer, leaving the bureau with $51 million to provide services.

“We’re an aging population,” he told legislators.

“That population is increasing. The need is there. The waiting lists are there.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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