By Joe Stumpe
Last July, Sedgwick County manager Tom Stolz promised a review of the Department on Aging and its funding. Stolz has kept his word, enlisting help from the Public Policy and Management Center at Wichita State University. In April, a research assistant with the center called to ask me my opinion, which I’ll share here as well.
In general, I think the department and the programs it supports deserve more money. Vital programs that have experienced waiting lists, such as Meals on Wheels, would be one place to start. But others have been scraping by for years, too, as the county’s spending in this area has failed to keep up with the growing older population.
The top priority should be services designed to help people live in their own homes as long as possible, which is indeed how the county Department on Aging sees it. But other programs and services are important, too. Here I’m thinking particularly of senior centers, which do so much to foster a sense of community among some older residents. And which could do so much more with adequate funding.
Part of Stolz’s review will involve looking at how much governments elsewhere spend on aging services and programs. I hope the goal is not just to find the lowest common denominator, nor just to divide up the current “pie” differently. What’s needed is a bigger pie. I also wish members of the county’s Advisory Council on Aging and Disabilities would be given more than a cursory role in setting priorities.
In recent years, Sedgwick County and the city of Wichita have made major quality-of-life investments designed to make this area more attractive to younger residents and families. Stolz’s bosses on the county commission have the authority to do the same for older residents, if they choose, once they get his review in hand.
Interestingly, the coronavirus pandemic that has been so disruptive to life in general recently led to a windfall of nearly $100 million for the county (see article, page 2). Since older residents with underlying health conditions are among the most vulnerable, it seems logical that programs and facilities designed to help residents stay healthy would be a good use of that money.
Common underlying conditions are lung disease, heart conditions, diabetes and severe obesity. Fitness equipment and instructors, tobacco cessation courses and nutritional programs are a few options for addressing those issues that come to mind.
Medicaid expansion a no-go
No one asked my opinion on this, but I think it’s a shame Kansas won’t join 36 other states in expanding Medicaid coverage this year after opponents blocked passage in Topeka last month. The proposal had been a top priority of Gov. Laura Kelly and many advocates for older residents, but was defeated by the Legislature’s Republican majority in a replay of previous years.
According to an Associated Press report, expansion supporters plan to try again next year. Meantime, Kelly said, “thousands of Kansans will go without health care for another year.”
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