Bill to Keep Elderly at Home Longer Sent Back for Retooling

AUGUSTA — A bill designed to keep the elderly and adults with disabilities out of nursing homes for as long as possible has been sent back to its incredulous authors for more work.

Members of the Blue Ribbon Commission to Study Long-term Home-based and Community-based Care reacted with dismay last week when the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee tabled a bill that resulted from several months of effort.

“We spent a lot of time on this bill and all of a sudden it’s just ripped apart,” said Sen. Margaret Craven (D-Androscoggin County), the primary sponsor of the legislation. “It seemed so straightforward to me.”

Craven’s bill is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of eight lawmakers. It requires the Department of Health and Human Services to eliminate by June of 2011 the waiting lists for home- and community-based care for the elderly and adults with physical disabilities. It also proposes other measures designed to improve access to and funding for programs to keep people living at home.

The bill calls for $1 million per year in new spending, $300,000 of it annually for developing a discharge planning process so people leaving nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities know the full range of options available to them. The rest of the funding would support long-term care services and family caregivers directly.

Members of the Health and Human Services Committee, during a public hearing last week, criticized some of the provisions in the bill. While some asked why it excluded some segments of the homebound population, such as the mentally ill, others questioned how it adds to laws already on the books. The bill’s sponsors were directed to revise it and bring it back.

Sen. Joseph Brannigan (D-Cumberland County), who co-chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, said he’s confident that the authors can salvage their effort.

“They’re hopefully going to give us a clearer picture of what they wanted to happen,” he said. “It was a surprising session, but I think some good will come out of it.”

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Nicole Ouellette

Nicole Ouellette

When Nicole isn't giving advice she's completely unqualified to give, she runs an Internet marketing company in Bar Harbor, where she lives with her husband Derrick and their short dog Gidget. She loves young adult novels, cooking and talking French to anyone who'll talk back. [email protected]