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Less red tape may save assisted-living centers

March 11, 1999

Holly PlaceBy MARLO BARNHART / Staff Writer

photo: KEVIN G. GILBERT / staff photogrpaher




While an outpouring of public donations and money from the Washington County Gaming Commission provided some short-term relief for two Hagerstown assisted-living centers, a more substantial rescue may be at hand.

Maryland Department of Aging officials met with Holly Place and North Holly directors Thursday and delivered the news that some of the confusion over eligibility for state and federal funds has been cleared up.

In February, Holly Place Manager Melanie Socks said she had been told that only three of the 15 residents at her 258 S. Potomac St. facility fit the criteria for Medicaid subsidies.

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"Now I'm told that 14 of those 15 qualify for geriatric assistance," Socks said. "If that is the case, then we'll break even each month as long as we don't have to hire more staff."

More residents qualify for the assistance because requirements have been loosened, according to Denise Adams, senior assisted living program manager for the Maryland Department of Aging.

And some layers of bureaucracy have been stripped away, she said.

"Since January 1999, all assisted-living program monitoring and licensing now comes under the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene," Adams said.

Three separate state agencies previously were involved.

Adams came to Hagerstown with Maryland's Secretary of Aging Sue Ward and several other members of Ward's staff to tour Holly Place and North Holly on South Potomac Street. Each facility houses 15 low-income senior citizens.

Socks said a staff of 16 provides 24-hour services for the 30 residents, including monitoring medications, cooking, cleaning, and taking them to appointments with their doctors.

Socks said in January that the two homes might have to close if funds couldn't be found.

A wave of community support brought in enough donations to keep the doors open for another three months, Socks said.

A community fund-raiser brought in about $20,000. The Gaming Commission awarded Holly Place $30,000 in February.

But the center's long-term financial problems, which stem from rising grocery and utility bills and flat Social Security checks, needed a long-term solution, said Jean Hettenhouser, a member of Senior Living Alternatives, the nonprofit board that oversees the homes.

Ilene Rosenthal, chief of housing services for the Maryland Department of Aging, said that if the sliding scale topped out at $1,200 or more per month per resident, rather than the current $976, the center would be eligible for that much more money in state subsidies at no additional cost to the residents.

The grants, a combination of federal and state money, cover people who without assisted-living services would go into nursing homes. Statewide, the federal grant program has doubled in the last six months, Ward said.

"These community-based programs will have a greater role as time goes on - they have to," Ward said. "In-home services and this kind of place will be growing. We just have to figure out better ways to finance them."

Socks said Holly Place once had a long waiting list but that is no longer the case amid concern about its financial health and future in the community.

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