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Holly Place needs help

April 14, 2006

Holly Place and Holly Place North, two assisted living facilities that have served indigent senior citizens in Hagerstown for the past 18 years, are facing financial trouble again.

County Administrator Rod Shoop is correct when he says that it is not county government's responsibility to take on a burden the state has dropped. But someone in local government has to work on a long-term solution for this necessary facility.

Why? Because in addition to serving a local need, the Holly Place facility actually saves the government money.

The state acknowledged that way back in 1995, when Maryland Secretary of Aging Sue F. Ward met with the nonprofit Holly Place board and said that it was cheaper for taxpayers to pay for assisted-living facilities than for nursing-home care.

How much cheaper? In February 2005, state officials agreed that if the Holly Place facilities were closed, the state's $2,000-per-month cost of their care would double to $4,000.

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At that time, there were 20 Holly Place residents who were eligible for nursing home care. Moving them to nursing homes would increase the state's annual costs from $480,000 to nearly $1 million.

Helping Holly Place makes financial sense, but such a rescue effort would require state-level bureaucrats to think beyond rules and policies and concentrate on saving taxpayer dollars.

Will that happen? It's hard to say, but until it does, it is up to local government and the community to keep Holly Place open.

This would require leadership as much as it would money. Elected officials could use the visibility of their positions to spearhead the creation of a new, annual fundraiser for the Holly Place facilities.

One of the Holly Place organization's problems is that it's not very visible, except when it's in a financial crisis.

An annual fundraiser would provide an opportunity to provide those who attend with information on what happens at these facilities and why raising rents to make ends meet would defeat Holly Place's goal of providing shelter to the poor.

No one expects government to do it all. What we hope will happen, however, is that elected officials will use the visibility they have to support those elderly residents who live outside the spotlight.

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