Senior Citizens Grow Older Waiting For Home Care Assistance

CLEVELAND (AP) - Nearly 1,000 senior citizens in Ohio are on a waiting list for the state's home health care assistance program even though the program has room for nearly 3,000 more.

The program, known as PASSPORT, provides help with personal care, meals, chores and other daily needs.

State officials say PASSPORT would have to stop taking new clients within weeks if limits were not placed on the number of people it added each month.

The limitations are due to the program's loss of $7 million in state money, which cost Ohio another $10 million in federal matching funds.

Limiting enrollment each month is better than closing PASSPORT completely to new clients, said Steve Proctor, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Aging. About 22,000 people are enrolled.

"If word got out the program was closed, people wouldn't call," he said. "By putting them on a waiting list -- it's not ideal -- but at least it gives them hope and access to other services they wouldn't know about if they didn't call."

To receive PASSPORT -- which stands for Pre-Admission Screening System Providing Options and Resources Today -- recipients must be frail enough to need nursing home care and also meet the income limits to qualify for Medicaid, the government's health insurance plan for low-income Americans.

Carletha Walker's father, Robert, has been waiting since December to join. His five children tried to pitch in to take care of the 69-year-old, but they have jobs and their own children.

Carletha Walker, a self-employed general contractor, decided to move him to her house. He is battling bone cancer and needs constant care, and she hasn't been able to work since.

"The home care would give me a break so that I can go back to work," she said. "I'm getting a little worried because of my financial situation, but I'm going to do what I need to do for my father."

AARP Ohio spokeswoman Kathy Keller suggests moving some of the money from the nursing home industry into the PASSPORT program.

But nursing homes already are losing money on their Medicaid residents, said Peter Van Runkle, president of the Ohio Health Care Association, which represents most of the state's nursing homes.

"The last thing that should be done would be to punish one group of seniors to help another," he said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)