Report on long-term elder care ranks Utah 39th

Thursday , June 19, 2014 - 12:53 PM

According to a new nationwide report, Utah ranks 39th among the 50 states and District of Columbia in delivering long-term services and supports for its aging population, adults with disabilities and family caregivers.

Available for public perusal Thursday, “Raising Expectations 2014: A State Scorecard on Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Adults, People with Physical Disabilities, and Family Caregivers” examines five dimensions and up to 26 indicators to assess where states can better address the needs of this growing demographic.

Those five dimensions include 1) affordability and access, 2) choice of setting and provider, 3) quality of life and quality of care, 4) support for family caregivers, and 5) effective transitions.

“In just 12 years the leading edge of the Baby Boom Generation will enter its 80s, placing new demands on the LTSS system,” the 120-page report compiled by AARP, Commonwealth Fund and SCAN Foundation said. “This generation and those that follow will have far fewer potential family caregivers to provide unpaid help.”

According to AARP Utah, older Americans prefer to live independently at home as they age, and in Utah, approximately 383,000 family caregivers provide most of their daily care without pay.

However, the new scorecards ranked Utah 50th for support of family caregivers. That indicator represents a composite of several factors, including legal supports and stress levels.

“Today, unpaid family caregivers provide the bulk of care for older Utahns, in part because the cost of long-term care remains unaffordable for most middle income families,” the AARP Utah statement said.

That care runs the gamut from bathing and dressing to providing transportation, assisting with finances, administering wound care and injections, and more.

It equates to 365 million hours of unpaid care per year at an economic value of $4.2 billion, the statement said.

AARP Utah Director Alan Ormsby credited the state’s “silent army of family caregivers” for shouldering most of the day-to-day tasks that allow aging relatives to remain at home.

“Many juggle full-time jobs with their caregiving duties; others provide 24/7 care for their loved ones,” Ormsby said in a statement. “With every task they undertake, these family caregivers save the state money by keeping their loved ones out of costly nursing homes – most often paid for by Medicaid. They have earned some basic support.”

A joint resolution, passed by Rep. Rebecca Chavez-Houck, D-Salt Lake City during the 2014 legislative session, expressed general support for state policies and programs that address caregiver needs, but provided no specifics. So AARP Utah intends to explore legislative options to ease the burden that caregivers bear, such as respite care for those family members who provide round-the-clock care.

AARP Utah also recommends that state lawmakers re-evaluate family leave policies, along with statutes governing the number of health maintenance tasks that paid home health workers can perform.

At present, Utah’s home health workers can only perform one such function related to low-level medical care such as giving injections, administering oral medication, or applying eye or ear drops. In some states they can perform up to 16 of these tasks.

Laura Polacheck, communications director for AARP Utah, said Utah’s lone permitted task refers to ostomy care, which includes skin care and changing the appliance.

Most of the burden remains with the family caregiver when those tasks cannot be delegated, Polacheck said.

Another suggestion from AARP Utah, an organization of 212,000 members age 50 and up, is to consider a tax credit that would help low-income caregivers who are struggling financially.

Utah fared much better for one of the five dimensions, ranking second compared to other states in terms of effective transitions from nursing homes back into the community.

Susan Reinhard, a senior vice-president for AARP, said that Utah is an interesting mix.

“You do very well in the transitions area, in helping people get back into the community,” Reinhard said, adding that the data indicates that Utah spends much more of its money on institutional care than home and community-based services.

View the full report at

Contact reporter Cathy McKitrick at 801-625-4214 or Follow her on Twitter at @catmck.

Sign up for e-mail news updates.