Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Maine's Elderly: "People with little political clout or backing".

FAIRFIELD -- Recipients of direct-care services -- primarily the elderly -- tend to be the most fragile Mainers, people with little political clout or backing.

"Children have advocates," said Denise Stevens, owner of Maine-ly Elderly Care in Oakland. "They pack the room. But when it comes to elder services, there is nobody there."
That is changing, though.

Kennebec Valley Organization, a coalition of church congregations, union locals and community groups, has embraced long-term care as one of its primary causes.
The organization will hold a meeting on the subject from 4 to 6 p.m. today at the Immaculate Heart of Mary parish hall.

One of the focuses of the organization's effort is L.D. 1687, a bill sponsored by Maine Senate President Beth Edmonds aimed at helping direct care agencies provide health care coverage to their employees.

Dan Koehler, a lead organizer of Kennebec Valley Organization, said the legislation is an effort to accomplish that goal in two parts.
The first part, he said, seeks to establish a demonstration program of sorts with up to $500,000 in funding.

Under the program, direct-care providers would apply for grants from that fund to be used to increase health-care coverage for employees.
The other part, he said, would be to tweak DirigoChoice to allow more direct-care workers to buy into the program.

There are also efforts afoot to raise the minimum wage for direct-care workers to a more reasonable level.

In a study released by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, the cost of raising pay to $10 an hour across the board in the industry is estimated to be $6 million.
Edmonds said she doesn't expect that to happen in the current legislative session.

"It probably isn't feasible this second," she said, "but we have to take one step at a time."
-Article submitted by Laurie A. Borguss

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