Thursday, May 26, 2011

It is More than Just a Meal

Authored by Paul Downey, President/CEO, Senior Community Centers of San Diego and President, National Association of Nutrition and Aging Services Programs

Even the most skeptical contrarian would have trouble disputing the link between proper nutrition and overall health, particularly for seniors. So why is this truism important in the cacophony that passes for debate on how to cut federal spending and reduce the debt?

The answer is in the next linkage. Better health allows seniors to remain independent longer. This delays or eliminates the need for higher levels of care like skilled nursing facilities. Besides being much happier, seniors living independently have greater economic security because they do not have the burden of spending $5,000 a month or more for institutionalized care. For seniors without personal resources, independence means that the tremendous financial burden for institutionalization is not transferred to their families or taxpayers.

The aging network in the United States serves more than 200 million congregate and home delivered meals (HDM) via the Older Americans Act.  The impact of these meals is healthier seniors who are able to remain independent in their own homes at considerable cost savings to themselves and the community. Providing senior meals is cheap insurance when compared to the exorbitantly expensive alternatives.

That is why the budget proposed by Congressman Paul Ryan (R-WI) to cut domestic spending for the Older Americans Act to fiscal year 2008 levels represents a false economy. Draconian cuts to senior meals will mean significantly more unhealthy seniors who are no longer able to live independently. The question for Congressman Ryan and his cohorts is, do you want to make an investment in the health and wellbeing of older adults or pay through the nose later via Medicare and Medicaid?  

I hope when that question is ultimately answered, our elected leaders will conclude that the return on investment of health promotion rather than illness represents the best choice from a human and fiscal perspective. 



Anonymous said...

When I was a reporter, I shadowed a volunteer who delivered meals to the elderly. The volunteer shared with me that on one occasion, a client had not left a not about being away from home and didn't answer the doorbell. He called 911 as a result. The paramedics found that the client had had a medical emergency and needed help.

Thanks to an alert volunteer, that person was spared. The program is, indeed, more than just a meal and is worth saving.

Paul Downey said...

Unfortunately, the poster is 100% accurate. It is very common for our homebound meal delivery drivers to be the first responders to medical emergencies. They all receive training on spotting signs of Elder Abuse -- by another person and self neglect. In far too many cases, the drivers are the only people who socialize with the seniors on a given day.