Senior citizens speak out against elderly services merger

Monday, April 16, 2012 - 5:14pm

BATON ROUGE, La (FOX44) — Hundreds of senior citizens packed themselves into the state capitol Monday to make their voices heard.

“We’re not broken! Don’t fix us,” Kitty Askew says. She was up at 5:00 in the morning to take a bus ride to Baton Rouge from Cameron Parish to protest against Senate Bill 690.

That bill looks to merge the Government’s Office of Elderly Affairs with the Department of Health and Hospitals’ Office of Aging and Adult Services. GOEA includes the Council on Aging.

“We’ve been on our own for all these years! We haven’t asked anybody for anything and now, they want to lump us in with everybody,” Askew says. “It’s not going to work.”

She and the many other people worry that merging the two agencies for the elderly will negatively impact the Council on Aging.

“This bill is going to ruin it!” Billy Nichols with the Cenla Area Agency on Aging says. “It’s going to cut out a lot of aid for the elderly people.”

Seniors think the proposed consolidation will cut funding from their Council on Aging facilities and services, like Meals on Wheels.

“It would really hurt us!” Betty Parker says. “We wouldn’t have nowhere to go. We’d just be sitting at home and I guess most of us won’t leave because we’d have nowhere to go, but watch television!”

“It’s the little parish councils that is going to hurt the most,” Nichols adds. “It’s going to shut them down and the money is not going to be there for them. They’re going to use that money for something else.”

However, DHH officials say that’s just not true. Kathy Kliebert says the plan to merge the branch that houses the Council on Aging with DHH is meant to help, not hurt, the state’s elderly people.

“We want to have a strong unit on aging to several things, primarily, to look at duplication of services to make sure that we’re providing services in the most streamlined ways,” she explains.

She says barely anything will change if the bill passes. “We want it to be very clear that people who are currently receiving services that will still have those same opportunities,” Kliebert says. “Nobody’s going to losing those services because of this merger.”

Seniors, however, aren’t convinced.

“This is a triple slap in the face!” Betty Parker says.

They fear that their needs are being overlooked. “This state is not taking care of its senior citizens,” Askew exclaims. “They’re doing everything in their power to take things away from us.”

SB 690 still has to be heard in committee. It’s been assigned to the Senate Health and Welfare Committee. There’s no word on when the bill will be discussed. It still has to be heard and passed in the Senate and the House before becoming law.

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