S.E. Williams | Contributor
Message from the Editor: On March 23, 2019 the IE Voice published Part 1 in its series on aging titled, “Seniors and the Threat of Involuntary Discharge from Long-Term Facilities.” This is Part 2 in the series.
Former California Assemblymember Cheryl Brown continues to be a passionate advocate for seniors and caregivers. Appointed to the California Commission on Aging by Governor Jerry Brown she remains at the forefront of advocacy on issues affecting seniors.
Brown spoke with The IE Voice/Black Voice News about Governor Gavin Newsom’s recently signed Executive Order which called for the state to create a Master Plan for Aging.
Brown frequently reminds listeners, “Nearly one thousand people in California are turning 65 every day.” As an Assemblymember she shared how she would often tell peers and others, “There is a silver tsunami coming and you are not ready for it.”
Brown said her point was not to make aging scary, instead she wanted to raise awareness about what was coming in relation to states aging population and the need to have systems and services in place enable the state to best respond to their needs.
Today it is apparent her cautions did not fall on deaf ears so to speak. When Newsom announced his Executive Order calling for a Master Plan for Aging he tasked the Secretary of the Health and Human Services (HHS) to convene A Stakeholder Advisory Committee to assist with developing the Plan, which will include a Research Subcommittee and a Long-Term Care Subcommittee—the goal, to build toward an age-friendly California.
The state’s over-65 population is projected to grow to 8.6 million by 2030. “We need a plan that brings everyone to the table—local communities, labor, private sector and philanthropy—to help us understand what’s coming and guide us toward taking better care of older Californians.”
“The Golden State is getting grayer and we need to be ready for the major population changes headed our way.” – Governor Newsom
The Master Plan Newsom has called for will serve as a blueprint that can be used by all stakeholders to build environments that promote healthy aging.
“The Golden State is getting grayer and we need to be ready for the major population changes headed our way,” Newsom continued. “An aging population will introduce new opportunities for economic and community growth but also drive increased health and long-term care costs.
HHS in partnership working with other state agencies will convene a Stakeholder Advisory Committee which will include two sub-committees—one focus on research, the other one on Long-Term Care. These subcommittees will include representation from various groups including older Californians, adults with disabilities, local government representatives, health care providers, health plans, employers, community-based organizations, foundations and academic researchers as well as organized labor.
Importantly, the Long-Term Care Subcommittee was tasked by the governor to provide him with a report by March 2020 with recommendations to stabilize the state’s long-term care programs and infrastructure, including In-Home Supportive Services.
Aging population percentage per county
Currently, Medi-care recipients who rely on their savings to pay the cost of staying at a facility beyond what’s covered by Medi-Care can be evicted; while according to Brown those on Medi-Cal are only covered for 100 days. “Sometimes doctors will extend the stay if the person is not well and has no place else to go,” she said. But beyond that, if no family or friends can step in
Having a plan for long term care makes a difference. Yet, “Such plans are hard to find,” according to Brown. They can also be very expensive. This is where the problem lies, Brown said. “Some people are just really, really sick and they can’t do anything else.”
Another issue faced by many California seniors, is their resources are too high. This keeps them from qualifying for Medi-Cal assistance. As a result, they can’t get the help they need when trying to manage at home because their assets are too high. “If they own a home, they have to spend all of their resources before they can get help,” Brown explained. “That is why the governor is saying ‘Wait a minute, middle income people [seniors] are becoming poor because they can only have $200 in the bank.’” This is the maximum saving seniors are allowed to have in order to qualify for any state assistance.
This is especially difficult for minorities and women who historically make pennies on the dollar compared to White men. This not only impacts their ability to save for retirement, afford expensive plans for long-term care and because social security benefits are based on earnings, they also spend their golden years managing on very limited incomes.
“That’s the problem that we see,” Brown concurred. “During my time in the assembly we held a hearing that involved Blacks, Latinos, Asians and members of the LGBTQ communities. We talked about how each community has its own set of issues. “For example, many members of the LGBTQ community don’t have children. So often, there is no one to take care of them.”
During her time in the assembly Brown also questioned why there was not more legislative focus on seniors. She learned it was partly because seniors did not come to Sacramento to make their voices heard.
“Seniors were already organized,” she stressed, “They just weren’t as vocal as others in letting the legislature to know what they wanted.”
With the help of Brown and others that has changed. Once a year a contingent of seniors make their way to Sacramento to act as advocates, not only for themselves but also for seniors all over the state. “Every year we go back and move the needle a little more.”
As a member of the assembly Brown chaired the Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care. She continues to be a fierce advocate on this issue.
Brown’s advocacy helped push a resolution which allowed the School of Gerontology at the University of Southern California to complete a two-year study on caregivers. The study was given to the legislature for them to adopt some of its recommendations.
“The plan has been adopted as written,” she declared. “This gives an indication of what the legislature will be addressing regarding caregivers. What they [School of Geronntology] found was that some caregivers had to quit their jobs in order to stay home and take care of the person [who was sick]. Then both were impacted, she stressed. ‘They [legislators] are looking at what they can do to change all that.”
One of the ways caregivers were supported in the past was through the state’s Caregiver Resource Centers, Brown informed. “There are 11 in the state of California but have been cut back so severely they cannot help the caregivers at all because they do not have the staff.”
Adding, “One of the things the resource center does is to come out and give a person [caregiver] respite if the caregiver needs a few hours away or something, but they did not have the money to it.”
According to Brown all the issues related to aging and care are important highlighting there is not enough money right now to provide many of the services needed. “Things will change,” she assured, “when the Master Plan is completed.”
If recent actions at the state level are any indication Brown is correct, as progress is already being made. Not only did the governor issue his executive order this month to stabilize the state’s long-term care programs and infrastructure including In-Home Supportive Services; he further cautioned the Master Plan must also address issues related to person-centered care, the patchwork of public services, social isolation, bed-locked seniors in need of transportation, the nursing shortage, and the growing demand for In-Home Supportive Services.
This week Brown also learned Senator Holly Mitchell who chairs the Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review secured $30 million dollars in the budget to support the state’s caregiver program.
In the coming weeks HHS is expected to engage stakeholders, local and county government partners and the Legislature to begin meaningful progress in their quest to establish California’s Master Plan for Aging. The full Master Plan is expected to be completed by October 2020.
The IE Voice/Black Voice News is certain former Assemblymeber Cheryl Brown will be watching.