ANNAPOLIS – In the 1980’s Maryland’s nursing homes were filled almost to capacity, then after 30 years of increasing enrollment the 1990’s witnessed an unexpected 5 percent drop.
That decline came at a time when the senior population grew by about 18 percent.
What’s happening, said Ann Rosenberger, vice president of Regulatory Affairs for the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, is that seniors have more care options and more money to pay for those options, in part due to a thriving economy.
But that has led to a new countertrend; seniors are outliving their income. And these newly impoverished elderly are expected to flood nursing homes in the coming years.
“Individuals are going in not expecting to stay as long as they are,” Rosenberger said. “They are living longer than they thought and their money is running out.”
Although most nursing homes are more expensive than the other options, the state Medicaid program will pay only for qualified individuals to live in nursing homes.
There are a few exceptions. About 70 individuals in the state receive a special waiver that allows Medicaid to pay for their care without their residing a nursing home.
However, a bill that just unanimously passed the state Senate and is on its way to the House of Delegates would expand the Medicaid umbrella to cover other senior care options. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Paula C. Hollinger, D- Baltimore County, would require those applying for aid to meet the economic and health qualifications that current Medicaid patients must meet regardless of their care situation.
Carolyn Duffy, an Annapolis resident, has become one of the bill’s most ardent supporters. Her mother entered Sunrise Assisted Living of Annapolis three and half years ago. She has advanced dementia and is wheelchair bound, but does not need 24-hour medical care, Duffy said. Last March, however, her mother ran out of money. Duffy called to enroll her in Medicaid, but was told her mother was not eligible unless she moved to a nursing home. “I’ll feel terrible if I have to uproot her and move her into a nursing home,” Duffy said. Her mother lived in homes twice before when she broke her leg. Duffy said the experience was a nightmare. “They were stealing her clothes and treating her horribly,” she said. Now Duffy and her brother, who have been paying their mother’s bills at Sunrise, are also running out of money and are dipping into their retirement funds. And Duffy’s situation typifies the problem: everyone expected Baby Boomers to hit retirement age, but no one was planning for the generation before them to still be around, said Stephanie Garrity, the chief of Client and Community Services in the Department of Aging. “People were preparing for a future, but not so much of a future,” Garrity said. “Nobody was prepared for this. Nobody thought it would happen but it happened.”