Lieutenant Governor works to put a face on aging

In an attempt to put a face on aging in South Carolina, Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell has been touring nursing homes, assisted living facilities and senior centers throughout the state since September and listening to the needs of elderly.

The tour stopped in Myrtle Beach on Tuesday with visits to senior centers and homes of those who receive meals from the state. McConnell said the Office on Aging has seen its budget cut by 48 percent in recent years and hopes to be able to receive $5 million more in state funding in the coming year. He was able to secure an additional $2 million this year, bringing the budget to $6.5 million.

“I want to come up with stories, faces and facts to take back to the General Assembly and create a grassroots movement,” McConnell said. “I know there are lobbyists at the front door competing for the money.”

McConnell delivered meals with Horry County Council on Aging employees Tuesday for a chance to speak directly to seniors in their homes. Dorothy Mitchell said the meals help supplement the food she’s able to purchase.

“I can still cook some, but not every day,” Mitchell said, who uses a walker to move around. “They fill you up and they’re healthy.”

Keeping seniors healthy is something that McConnell said is a very important goal of the Office on Aging.

“If we can keep folks healthy, we can keep them in their homes and out of the skilled nursing beds,” he said.

He said that it costs about $1,200 per person to provide services such as meals and homemaker services for the 26,000 seniors through the Office on Aging. McConnell said that when seniors aren’t healthy they end up in nursing homes and, unless they have a lot of money saved up, can quickly end up on Medicaid. It costs $54,000 a year to provide services to someone in a skilled nursing bed, he said.

“They end up going through their assets and end up on Medicaid and being a burden on the taxpayer,” he said.

McConnell said he also hopes to gather best practices from the places he visits to develop a short-term plan and then a 15-year strategic plan for the Office on Aging. Things he said he’d like to look at include working to get Medicaid transportation back from private contractors and expanding on the best practices he’s seen in senior centers such as health centers, stimulating games and socialization.

What does Mitchell ask of the Office on Aging?

“Just keep checking on us,” she said.

Acknowledging he won’t serve as lieutenant governor for the next 15 years, McConnell said he plans to work to raise awareness about the needs of the Office on Aging so it becomes an important issue to all elected officials.

“I want to increase the awareness so, in the long term, the politicians cant ignore [seniors],” he said.

McConnell said he hadn’t thought about running for reelection in two years, but hasn’t ruled it out.

“If I don’t finish this project, I definitely will,” he said.