Hawaii’s senior population is increasing, but the funding of the state’s Kupuna Care program, which provides basic services to older adults who can’t live at home without help, has stayed flat for years.

Senate Bill 964 would provide additional funding to the Kupuna Care program. It’s now in conference committee with a hearing scheduled Tuesday, and the specific dollar figures in the first draft have been converted to blanks while negotiations continue.

The program aims to keep seniors out of intensive care facilities to help limit costs and increase quality of life by providing services like home-delivered meals, transportation assistance, bathing and help with chores.

Elderly hands

Funding for the state Kupuna Care Program has remained flat while the senior population grows.

Vinoth Chandar/Flickr.com

Harry Maxwell, 80, says he’s lucky to have support from Lanakila Pacific, which offers programs that are partly funded by the Kupuna Care. SB 964 would help pay for the non-profit organization’s Meals on Wheels program, which delivers meals to seniors’ homes.

Although Maxwell doesn’t need the home-delivery meal service, he advocates for the program on behalf of other seniors. He’s known some older adults who have been forced to choose to pay for food instead of their medication, he said.

“A lot of people don’t realize how very important that program is,” Maxwell told Civil Beat.

He said that the program does more than just provide nutritious meals; the volunteers provide compassionate care and important interaction with older adults.

“It’s more than giving out meals … it improves quality of life,” Maxwell said.

Since 2002, the number of people over 60 in Hawaii has increased by approximately 70,000 people, according to the American Association of Retired People.

The original draft of SB 964 would have asked for another $5.1 million to fund the Kupuna Care program, in addition to the $4.8 million already in the base budget for the Executive Office on Aging, said Sen. Susie Chun Oakland, who introduced it.

However, Chun Oakland says that she’s trying to get the extra funding as part of the base budget so it doesn’t have to be reallocated through legislative measures each year.

“We’re getting older and a lot more people are needing help,” Chun Oakland told Civil Beat. “There’s is definitely a broad consensus among legislators to support Kupuna Care.”

The bill would also allocate funding to services that target Alzheimer’s and other dementia disorders, as well as programs that aim to prevent seniors from falling.

“All of these Kupuna Care services really help our seniors keep not only their independence … but also to be able to live with dignity,” said Lyn Moku, the director of Lanakila Pacific’s Meals on Wheels program.

The original draft of SB 964 would provide an additional $1.7 million for the Aging and Disability Resource Center, which helps seniors, individuals with disabilities and family caregivers find options for long-term care services.

Another $70,000 would be allocated to fund an Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia services coordinator in the Executive Office of Aging. The bill also asks for another $32,000 to fund fall prevention services for seniors.

Maxwell says that even services like Meals on Wheels are helpful to keep watch on seniors who are prone to falling or suffer from dementia. Just the other day, Maxwell and other volunteers found a woman who had fallen down and were able to get her to a hospital, he said.

And, as more people live longer, there will be more cases of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, Moku said. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, one of three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia.

The first draft of SB 964 asked for an additional $200,000 to fund an Alzheimer’s disease and dementia public awareness campaign.

Chun Oakland said funding programs like Alzheimer’s awareness and fall prevention would actually save the state money in reduced medical costs. Every year, an average of 85 seniors die, 1,960 are hospitalized and 8,700 are treated in emergency departments because of falls, according to SB 964.

Falls among Hawaii’s elderly cost about $1.2 million in hospital and physician charges, the bill states.

SB 964’s first draft would give another $388,000 to fund grants to senior centers, splitting it between Catholic Charities Hawaii, the Kapahulu Center, the Moilili Community Center and the Waikiki Community Center.

The first draft of SB 964 also allocated $476,722 for the Health Aging Partnership program, which offers health education and disease prevention programs for Hawaii’s seniors. 

“If we are able to do more prevention, we can at least start to reduce that cost for all of us and hopefully preserve the quality of life for people,” Chun Oakland said.

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