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The projected growth in the number of Tennesseans over the age of 60 will far outpace the availability of public services designed to keep aging Tennesseans out of nursing homes, according to a report released Wednesday by the Tennessee Comptroller.
There are currently about 1.6 million Tennessee residents aged 60 and older, a figure that is expected to increase by 30% over the next 20 years. The number of octogenarians in the state is expected to double during the same time period.
Programs in place to provide services to seniors in their own homes, however, can’t keep up with current demand. Three key programs — administered by TennCare, Tennessee’s Medicaid program, and the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability — are already over capacity, with long waiting lists.
All will require state and federal funds to support increasing demands. For instance, enrollment in Medicare is expected to increase by 11,214 seniors by 2040, leading to estimated program costs of $410 million. This is based on the current program costs of $36,585 per senior.
TennCare’s CHOICES program, which uses state and federal dollars to provide in-home services, has contracted rather than expanded as a result of budget cuts. In 2020 it served 1,583 people age 65 and older, down from 4,291 in 2015, according to state data cited in the report. A state meal delivery program currently has a waitlist of 1,300 seniors. And Options for Community Living, an entirely state-funded program for people with disabilities and older Tennesseans, reported a 2020 wait list of 2,566, according to the report.
The report lays out options for Tennessee lawmakers to consider. They include expanding programs that allow seniors to live independently at home, increasing pay for home aides who provide in-home services, creating more residential programs for seniors at risk for needing nursing home care and increasing options for family caring for elderly loved ones, including funding to help support them.
The report also notes that state and regulatory agencies believe there’s been an increase in unlicensed facilities targeting elderly and vulnerable adults in several counties due to a lack of residential facilities for seniors in several counties. The Tennessee Department of Health currently licenses 46 homes, with a total bed count of 966.
Although the total number of unlicensed facilities is unknown, the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation received 64 complaints within the first six months of 2021.
Unlicensed facilities are known for financially exploiting elderly and vulnerable adults, either by forcing residents to make the operator the payee for Supplemental Security Income payments or taking food stamps, medications and other resources from residents to sell for a profit.
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