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Home Care for Elderly Could Alleviate Bed Shortage

March 11, 2009 — As the territory's population ages, the need grows for more long-term beds to care for the elderly who need assistance, but a better and less-costly solution may be to make it easier for more seniors to stay at home.
At a hearing in Frederiksted Wednesday, Human Services Commissioner Chris Finch told the V.I. Legislature's Health Committee that residential care costs more than $13 million — more than 20 percent of the department's budget — yet the need is still growing. Because there is a lack of available beds in the territory, some senior patients are sent, at great expense, to hospitals and senior facilities stateside.
"You said you spend about $2.3 million for residents out of the territory," said Sen. Neville James."That's about four percent of your entire budget, isn't it?"
Finch said that was correct. Asked what plans there were to increase beds, Finch said the Herbert Grigg Home on St. Croix was ready to add 40 beds at relatively low cost as soon as the Frederiksted Health Clinic is ready to move back into its Frederiksted offices.
"Because there is an already-built facility at Grigg, it is the easiest one to expand," Finch said. Much of the necessary work was already done to prepare for the Frederiksted Clinic's temporary use of one of the buildings at the Grigg Home, so the remaining costs will be fairly small, he said.
But the need for beds remains acute, and some elderly with no place else to go still occupy very expensive hospital beds. Because resources are tight, there are no immediate plans to build new facilities.
"With long-term senior housing, you are talking about very, very expensive care," Finch said.
But expanding programs to help families care for their relatives at home may have a lot of potential to help the situation.
"No senior ever calls us asking to move to a residential facility," he said. "In survey after survey, seniors want to live and die at home. If you can make it happen, they are happier and we are all better off."
Assistance to family caregivers is crucial for frail seniors who live at home.
"This task can be quite arduous," Finch said. "We have to make sure it doesn't get to the point where the caregiver can't leave home because of the care they are providing. There has to be respite care, and … we have to have home nurse care and allow more home health care to be paid."
It was an oversight hearing and no votes were taken. Officials from Human Services and the Division of Licensing and Consumer Affairs testified at the hearing. Present were James, committee chairman Patrick Simeon Sprauve, and Sens. Craig Barshinger, Nereida "Nellie" Rivera, Michael Thurland and Alvin Williams.
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