Legislators Talk About Empowering Seniors, And Power Outages

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Aging , Public Utilities

State Sen. Julian Cyr listened as state Rep. Danielle Gregoire, chair of the House chair of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs, detailed legislative initiatives March 16 at the Orleans Senior Center.  ED MARONEY PHOTO

ORLEANS A meeting with state legislators on the concerns of seniors last week morphed into a conversation about the Cape's aging power delivery systems.

On March 16 at the senior center, state Sen. Julian Cyr and state Rep. Sarah Peake welcomed state Rep. Danielle Gregoire, House chair of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs. Modestly admitting that she hadn't even been a member of the committee before being named to lead it about a year ago, Gregoire ran down a list of works in progress to help seniors, including increased funding for Elder Protective Services in the wake of new reporting requirements for the elder abuse hot line.

Gregoire said she was “fighting” for funds to create a home care employment career path for individuals who find they have to leave that essential career given its low rate of pay. “Folks are leaving to go to work at McDonald's or Walmart,” she said. “There are two and a half times the hours approved by insurance companies that go unfilled.”

The other side of the equation isn't any rosier. “Nursing homes are going out of business on a regular basis,” said Gregoire. “They can't make ends meet on what they're being reimbursed by health care companies.” Her committee is trying to increase reimbursement rates.

Gregoire wants to expand a program that rehabilitates durable medical equipment such as wheelchairs and walkers, often discarded with minor problems because replacements are covered by health plans. “However, a lot of people don't have access at all,” she said.

Access to affordable services is a concern of the representative. She said she's “getting to some consensus” on a plan to allow nurses on staff at assisted living facilities “to provide very basic medical services: bandage changes, routine injections, and eye drops.” Currently, if someone has an aversion to self-injection, a visiting nurse must be called. “In the Berkshires, that can cost $90 to $100 a visit,” Gregoire said.

Easing the burden of people with Alzheimer's and those who care for them is a priority. Gregoire spoke of a bill to establish an Alzheimer's advisory council responsible for recommendations to the governor and legislature.

“Most of our hospitals are woefully unprepared to deal with folks who have Alzheimer's and related dementia,” Gregoire said. “You show up in the emergency room and you don't know where you are, who's doing what to you, and why you're there, and the professionals in that ER don't have a plan how to handle you.” Hospitals will be give three years to develop and execute a plan, with help from the state Department of Public Health, if needed. And physicians, nurses, physician's assistants and other medical personnel will be required within the next four years to have Alzheimer's training so “we won't end up with people slipping through the cracks,” the representative said.

Gregoire's committee helped increase funding for a public awareness campaign about the Alzheimer's Association's 24-hour hot line. Harwich Council on Aging Director Judi Wilson, who held the same post previously in Orleans, urged the chair to work closely with the Cape Cod Alzheimer's Family Support Center.

After touching on the need for more housing options for people of all ages, the conversation turned to the recent nor'easter and subsequent loss of electric and phone service. Peake, who admitted that she was “about to throw my phone into the harbor” during the outage, said at one point more than a million ratepayers in Massachusetts lost power for a significant amount of time. “In cities and towns with their own municipal power companies like Hull and Hingham,” she said, “there are zero customers that have lost power. It goes directly to maintenance of the system.”

Eversource promised system improvements, including the creation of micro-grids that Peake said would prevent “Eastham to Provincetown going dark” because one substation is damaged. She said the full Cape and Islands delegation would ask, “What have you been doing to fortify the grid and make these grid improvements you promised in 2015?”

Peake said she didn't want “any of my comments to be (seen as) disparaging of the men and women going up in those bucket trucks” to make repairs.