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South Carolina

Advocates Seek More Funding for Long Term In-Home Care

4,000 on waiting list for Community Choices

South Carolina State Page News April 2011

Tom Clark, of Columbia, honored his mother’s wish that she live in her own home. Budget pressures are making it increasingly difficult for South Carolina to fund home-based care services. — Stacy Pearsall/Aurora Select

Tom Clark can still remember the day he received the phone call from his mother.

Jersey Clark, of Columbia, was in a nursing home recovering from a fall when she demanded to return to her home. No one was selling her house and putting her in a nursing home, she insisted.

Eventually, she got her way. But she couldn't live at home without assistance. The family was able to use savings and some federal aid to pay for the home-based care she required, including around-the-clock assistance, meal preparation, light cleaning and companionship. When Clark's mother died in May 2009 at age 93, he felt it was on her terms.

"She was like, 'Hell, no. You couldn't blast me out of my house with dynamite,' " Clark said. "Those were her wishes and, by God, I was going to honor her wishes."

Like Clark's mother, most South Carolinians prefer to age in their own homes, an AARP survey has found. But the expense of the needed in-home services are out of reach for many, advocates for increased funding for home- and community-based services say.

"I've never met a person who said they preferred a semiprivate institutional room," said Johnny Belissary, president of the South Carolina Association of Personal Care Providers. "Budgets are tight, funds are being cut. And many states have looked at home- and community-based care as a way to stretch Medicaid dollars."

It costs the Medicaid program about $32 a day for home-based care compared with $127 a day for nursing homes. The state spends nearly $500 million annually for nursing home care, but about $142 million for home and community care.

"And, for that, we serve more people," said Teresa Arnold, AARP South Carolina associate state director. Nearly 11,800 are in Community Choices, while around 11,500 are in nursing homes.

Nursing homes provide around-the-clock skilled nursing care. Providing more money for home- and community-based care would duplicate services, nursing home advocates say.

"There is a need for a continuum of care, and those who believe otherwise are shortsighted and ill informed," said Randy Lee, president of the South Carolina Health Care Association, which represents the state's nursing homes. "Each aspect of the long-term continuum of care has its place. Each is cost-efficient at providing services at that level."

Spending for institutionalized care is federally mandated, while it's optional for home- and community-based care. In tight budgetary times, state funds for those services are often cut.

That's exactly what's happening in the Palmetto state, said Jeff Stensland, spokesman for the state Department of Health and Human Services.

Next: State leaders are aware of the problem. >>

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