Governor touts long-term care initiative during Kingston stop

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By The Staff



Gov. Phil Bredesen was in Kingston on Wednesday to discuss new changes in long-term care, which will be the addition of more choices in home-and community-based services.

The changes come in the form of a new law called the Long Term Community Choice Act of 2008 signed by Bredesen in June.

“It gives families a lot more options,” Bredesen said.

The act restructures the long-term care system and the way funds are spent, offering more than simply nursing home care.

“We know how much people want to stay in their homes,” Bredesen said.

According to Bredesen, $1.2 billion of state funds were used last year, and about 98 percent of those funds went to nursing homes.

Sam Lyles, regional impact team lead of the AARP for the Knoxville area and whose group has been an active voice for this program, said that Oregon gives about 55 percent of state funds for long-term care to nursing homes.

Bredesen said he hopes to gradually lower Tennessee’s figures to around 70 to 80 percent given to nursing homes.

This bill will provide more funds given to alternatives in long-term care for TennCare recipients, including at-home care and people who don’t require paid care 24 hours a day.

“There is a place for nursing homes,” Lyles said. “But this allows you to keep people at home for as long as you can.”

At-home care is also usually less expensive than nursing home care.

“It’s cheaper, they’re usually happier and they live longer,” said Wanda Lyles, wife of Sam and a volunteer for the AARP.

Dolores Marsden, supporter of the AARP, added that the bill also provides help for people who are taking care of a loved one but are unable to stay with them 24 hours a day because of work.

“It’s very difficult,” Marsden said of leaving a loved one. “Getting help at home is a wonderful thing for the caregivers.”

Bredesen said the issue struck him when dealing with his own mother, who’s healthy now but said she wants to stay at home for as long possible.

“Everyone in the state has had some experience,” Bredesen said.

State Rep. Dennis Ferguson, who was a sponsor of the bill, agreed.

“It’s the biggest piece of legislature in Tennessee, because long term care affects everybody,” Ferguson said.

Tennessee has been behind the curve in long-term care, and Bredesen said he is proud to move the state forward. He described the bill as part of the legacy of his time in office.

Bredesen also addressed the fact of dealing with the tight fiscal budget and how he believes that it helped get the legislation passed.

He added that the administration couldn’t just decide to add more money to the program.

“We had to go and do the right thing,” Bredesen said. “It forced us to face up to the issues we had.”

The law will also add a single point of entry into the state care system, which will be the Tennessee Area Agency for Aging and Disability. It will also simplify the process for entry and require less paperwork to get people what they need as quickly as possible.

“We’re trying to make it not like the usual government bureaucracy and make it easy,” Bredesen said.

The law became effective in July.