Need for in-home care for elderly emphasized

May 15, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

Although Harford County's Office on Aging assists about 300 people a year with in-home health care, nearly 100 people remain the waiting list for assistance, according to James Macgill Jr., the county director of aging.

He characterizes in-home health services as the most critical need among Harford's elderly.

The Office on Aging provides assistance with in-home aid -- which includes services such as nursing, meal preparation and help in dressing and bathing -- to homebound people who face being institutionalized if they don't have help with day-to-day living.

It is one of several services provided to needy county citizens over the age of 60 who qualify financially.

Mr. Macgill outlined the county's plan for services for fiscal 1995 at a public hearing in Bel Air last week. The plan -- which covers 12 services administered by the office, including health screenings, legal assistance and senior centers -- must be submitted by June 1 to the Maryland Office on Aging, which allocates federal and state funding to counties.

A total of $707,000 in state and local grants has been allocated to Harford County's Office on Aging for fiscal 1995, Mr. Macgill said.

With the $394,000 County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann has proposed as the county's fiscal 1995 contribution to its budget, the Harford Office on Aging expects to have about $1.1 million at its disposal in the next fiscal year.

But that is not enough to meet the needs of a county whose population is getting older, said Mr. Macgill.

"A home health aide can be very expensive," he said, citing private rates of $15 to $20 an hour.

The Office on Aging is able to provide affordable in-home services by contracting with home health agencies at reduced rates and then charging the elderly on a sliding scale according to their ability to pay.

The Office on Aging, under a separate budget funded by the county and by state and federal grants, also oversees the county's public bus transportation, which was the subject of many comments from elderly people who attended the hearing Monday.

Besides a system of five fixed bus routes operating throughout the county, the office provides lift-equipped vans and small buses that can be dispatched to transport the disabled and elderly to medical and other appointments.

The van service is popular among the elderly in rural areas where there is no regular bus service.

The fixed bus routes include stops at four of the county's five senior centers -- in Havre de Grace, Bel Air, Aberdeen and Joppa. Many members of the Highland Senior Center use the van service when it is available, Mr. Macgill said.

Jean Guzick of Pylesville, president of the Highland Senior Center Council, asked that some thought be given to establishing a regular bus route from the northern stretches of the county to the commercial centers around Bel Air.

"Unless you drive, there is absolutely no way to get out of northern Harford County," she said. "And it's a question of how long will we seniors be able to drive." She said some elderly people are afraid to drive into the more populated areas around Bel Air.

A recent loss of drivers through illness and attrition has led to cuts in bus and van service, particularly in the northern part of the county.

Mr. Macgill said the county plans to interview drivers in the next month and have full service restored by midsummer to the Highland and Joppa areas, which have been hit hardest.

Indicating that the prospect for a north county route is small at present, he said the next bus route to be added, possibly in the next year, probably would be along the U.S. 40 corridor, from Joppa to Havre de Grace, to include stops at the large industrial sites along U.S. 40.

He said that elderly people make up less than half the county bus ridership and that many people depend on public buses for transportation to work.

Other services offered by the Office on Aging are expected to continue with little change, Mr. Macgill said, including the Eating Together program, which provides lunch at each of the senior centers daily, and the Meals on Wheels program, which serves homebound seniors.

The Office on Aging also counsels seniors on Medicare and related health insurance issues, and investigates complaints by or on behalf of residents of long-term-care facilities in the county.

Mr. Macgill said that about 1,600 people contacted the Office on Aging for assistance last year and that the monthly newsletter was mailed to about 10,000 households in the county.

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