In rural Kansas, limited access to home services leaves seniors and families wanting

TOPEKA — Joellen Schmidt has dedicated much of her life to helping those in need when they need it most.

Alongside her husband, Jerald, she raised seven children, welcomed 25 international students into her home and helped 50 foster children who needed temporary accommodation. She worked as a teacher at Caldwell, inspiring many students on their way to induction into the Kansas Teachers Hall of Fame.

But that all changed a few years ago when Jerald passed away after battling Alzheimer’s disease. Then in 2020, doctors told Joellen she had an inoperable brain tumor.

In a small rural town like Caldwell, access to home care services is rare and, when found, they often don’t last long.

“She practically gave her life to help take care of people who needed her when they needed her, and now she’s in this boat and it’s a fight,” said Martin Schmidt, one of the sons of Joellen. “We realize the ultimate thing that could happen is you go to a nursing home, and that’s not what she wants to do.”

A new United Health Foundation report on Elder Care reflects the reality that many Kansas families face due to a lack of geriatric care providers and home care resources. The report shows key areas where the state lags behind the rest of the nation.

For Martin and his brother Kevin, who live in Caldwell, it means changing their daily routine to care for their mother. Both work full-time – Martin as an NCAA official and Kevin as an educator in addition to a side job – but to keep Joellen at home where she feels most comfortable, they have made sacrifices.

As her needs grew, especially after a recent fall related to a urinary tract infection, Kevin and Martin continued home health care services. But these providers never lasted more than a few weeks, Kevin said.

Currently, they have five people helping them out at different times, but Kevin says there’s no guarantee they’ll outlast the others.

“Even with the people we’ve lined up, Martin and I still have the responsibility of getting her to bed every night until she can do it on our own,” Kevin said. “We still have to spend time every day going there to take care of those chores because she just needs the little things to make life comfortable.”

Despite these challenges, Dan Goodman, executive director of Kansas Advocates for Better Care, said Joellen is one of the lucky ones who has family nearby to care for them, allowing them to age in place. Many are forced to live in nursing homes with no family to care for them.

Goodman said part of the reason this is the case is that the state supports institutional care and nursing homes more than community care. He pointed to the state’s 47th-place ranking for residents of low-level-of-care nursing homes in the United Health Foundation’s 2022 report.

Low level of care residents need less physical assistance to move around in bed, move around, go to the bathroom or eat. Most would not need to be in nursing homes if other options were available.

Goodman said Kansas also ranked 40th for geriatric service providers and food insecurity for Kansans 60 and older. He said many Kansans might choose a nursing home to access three meals a day.

“The community option is not a real option for many people in rural and border areas,” Goodman said. “The pandemic has only made this problem worse because right now a lot of people have taken the opportunity to change careers or leave low-paying positions. I don’t think he’s really rebounded like everyone else. everyone had hoped.

A 2021 survey conducted monthly by the National Healthcare Safety Network showed shortages of nurses and orderlies in 25-30% of long-term care sites that responded.

Earlier this year, the state allocated $51 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to Medicaid home and community service providers, starting this month. The bonuses will benefit about 24,000 direct support workers in the state, and each social worker could receive up to $2,000 in bonuses.

Additionally, agencies will receive an additional $1,500 per new staff member hired to encourage more direct field support workers.

Rep. Jarrod Ousley, a member of both the state’s elder care task force and the House’s Children and Seniors Committee, said the state has room to meet needs. of his elders.

“The main thing I’ve heard, in all my years on children and the elderly, is that older adults want to age in place,” Democrat Merriam said. “They don’t want to be in a nursing home. They want to be home as long as they can.

Richard F. Gandhi