27A candidates talk seniors

Published 10:15 am Friday, October 7, 2016

The two candidates for 27A representative discussed senior care issues and possible solutions Thursday, about a month before Election Day.

Incumbent Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea; and candidate Gary Schindler, D-Albert Lea, discussed the issues and possible solutions at a senior care forum at Good Samaritan Society of Albert Lea in front of about two dozen senior citizens and health care professionals.

The forum also included District 27B candidates, incumbent Jeanne Poppe, D-Austin; and Dennis Schminke, R-Austin.

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Addressing senior care

Schindler suggested providing opportunities for young people to work in long-term care in places such as Good Samaritan Society and Thorne Crest Senior Living Community, and advised high schools to hire more career counselors.

A state grant program and child care credit for students going back to college who want to enter fields such as long-term care could help the workforce shortage, according to Schindler.

“I think there are a number of things we can do to grow our workforce,” he said.

Bennett said she is proud of the Republican-led House of Representatives for helping pass a funding increase for nursing home facilities during the 2015 legislative session, which resulted in approximately $1.7 million — a 33 percent increase — in extra funding this year for Good Samaritan Society.

A responsible government includes funding roads, bridges and caring for those who cannot care for themselves, Bennett said, noting she supports loan forgiveness for students entering long-term care services, scholarships and promoting health care jobs for high school students.

Individuals need to plan for their long-term needs, Schindler said, suggesting a grading scale so people could evaluate long-term care policies and tax credits.

Schindler suggested lowering the cost of prescription drugs is needed for senior citizens and their families, and said consumers need to be aware of their options so they can make an informed choice on long-term care.

Bennett cited statistics, which show there will be more senior citizens than K-12 students as proof of the need to fund senior care.

She spoke in support of legislation that passed, which she said made long-term care more affordable by reducing mandates and by helping families make informed choices about long-term care. She encouraged people to think, talk, plan and be ready to evaluate long-term care options.

Reforms to Elderly Waiver program

Schindler and Bennett discussed possible reform to the Elderly Waiver program, which pays for home and community-based services for people who are 65 years old or older who require the level of medical care provided in a nursing home, but choose to reside in the community.

Bennett stressed the need to study the issue, noting legislators need to look at how rates are set and tying them to the actual cost of services.

“Talk to the people right down here … to find out the best way and what we can do to fix this,” she said. “It’s not an easy solution, but it can be done.”

She cited legislation, which passed in 2015 as beneficial to the program.

Schindler suggested the waiver program expand its range of services and examine income and asset levels needed to qualify for the program.

Technology and telemedicine

Schindler and Bennett spoke of their support of telemedicine — the diagnosis and treatment of patients by telecommunication — to assist seniors in living independently.

Schindler said telemedicine is an efficient way to deliver health care services, address staffing shortages, and reduce travel time and health care costs.

Bennett spoke of experiencing telemedicine in Austin.

“This would be an amzing tool for nursing homes and assisted living centers,” she said.

Bennett and Schindler spoke of the balance that needs to be struck between technology and privacy.

Schindler said though monitoring can provide safety and security, protect against elderly abuse and keep family members in touch, they have to ensure the elderly consent to the approach. He said though monitoring has its perks, it doesn’t replace visits from health care professionals or family.

“It’s still a personal relationship that’s critical here, and I don’t want to see that taken away,” he said.

Bennett said she wants legislators to focus on funding technology that will be relevant in the future to prevent spending inefficiencies.

Bennett and Schindler’s next forum is Tuesday at Riverland Community College.

Albert Lea resident Katie Jacobsen said she enjoyed the forum.

“I thought it was very informative,” she said. “It was nice to hear from two Democrats and two Republicans. I think they all have good goals.”

Schindler said the forum was important to address senior citizens.

“We have a growing population and we need to make certain their needs are covered,” he said.

Bennett spoke highly of the forum.

“This was great,” she said. “This is the kind of thing we should have in all areas so people have a good opportunity to learn about the issues and learn about the candidates, and I love it because it’s not so partisan and it is just a good way to learn.”

About Sam Wilmes

Sam Wilmes covers crime, courts and government for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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