The 88th Texas Legislative Session has begun – here’s what seniors should expect

Agencies working together to advocate for seniors discuss ways to push for effective change during the 88th Texas Legislative Session. – Photo courtesy of The Senior Source

 

By DIANE XAVIER
The Dallas Examiner

 

The 88th Texas Legislative Session began Jan. 10. Lawmakers are hoping to get several issues addressed that impact the community. Some groups that serve senior citizens have expressed hopes of receiving priority during the legislative session.

Older adults are considered the fastest growing population in Texas. In Dallas, they have grown at twice the rate of any other age group, according to The Senior Source, a nonprofit organization that ensures the financial and emotional well-being of Dallas-area seniors.

In order to address their needs, The Senior Source, The Alzheimer’s Association, The Dallas Area Gerontological Society, Visiting Nurse Association of Texas and Secure Our Seniors Safety hosted a public forum at The Senior Source local office, Dec. 12.

In attendance, were Texas State Reps. Rhetta Andrews Bowers, D-Garland; Jessica Gonzalez, D-Dallas; Julie Johnson, D-Carrollton; Carl Sherman, D-Desoto and representatives for Rep. Jared Patterson, R-Frisco; State Sen. Nathan Johnson, D-Dallas and Congresswoman-elect Jasmine Crockett, D-Dallas.

There are five legislative priorities that the group focused on: elder financial abuse protection, long-term care facility resident protection, housing, food security for older adults and Medicaid expansion, according to Stacey Malcolmson, president and CEO of The Senior Source.

“There’s so much power in fighting collectively on behalf of seniors,” Malcolmson said.  “Elder financial abuse is rampant in Texas and across the country. Our staff has seen seniors scammed out of their life savings due to fraud. Older adults lose more than $50 billion each year to fraud, scams and exploitation and for every reported case, 44 go unreported.”

She recommended legislative action that holds perpetrators accountable and strengthens protections for older adults is needed. This included support for Adult Protective Services in the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services.

She went on to further discuss long-term care facilities.

“Texas consistently ranks as one of the worst states in the country when it comes to quality of care for long-term care facility residents,” Malcolmson said.

Also, she said housing costs have become a concern for seniors as older adults who rely on rental housing have seen a spike and increase of housing costs.

“Dallas’ year over year rent costs lead the state average of an 8.3% increase,” she said. “Efforts supporting eviction legal aid and the Tenant Protection Act are vitally important in this legislative session.”

Food insecurity is another issue as prices have continued to increase since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Malcolmson said it should be easier for older Texans and those with disabilities to access SNAP benefits or Meals on Wheels across the state.

Medicaid expansion has been an ongoing concern and she hopes it will be resolved for seniors, if not all who are in need of quality medical care.

“Among the 50 states, Texas has the highest number and percentage of uninsured citizens,” Malcolmson said. “Medicaid expansion would provide health insurance coverage for up to 1.5 million Texas citizens aged 19 to 64 who earn less than 138% of the poverty level. The Senior Source said it believes that every individual deserves to grow older with dignity and access to resources and services.”

Next, Mark Denzin, executive director of the Dallas and Northeast Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, spoke.

“The Alzheimer’s Association is leading the way to end Alzheimer’s disease and accelerating global research, driving risk reduction, early detection and maximizing the quality of care are important pillars to help those who are dealing with this debilitating disease,” he said.

Currently, 6 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and over 11 million family members, friends and neighbors provide them with unpaid care. It is the sixth leading cause of death, and it is the only leading cause of death for which there is not currently a cure or treatment.

“What is the most commonly held myth about Alzheimer’s disease is that it is a normal part of aging,” Denzin said. “Which of course is false. This is a progressive and fatal disorder affecting an estimated 1 in 10 seniors over the age of 65. The term Alzheimer’s and Dementia are often used interchangeably. Dementia is an umbrella term for Alzheimer’s being the most common form of dementia. Our organization provides support for individuals living with any form of dementia.”

Denzin revealed that certain sectors of the population are at greater risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease. Women make up one-third of those living with Alzheimer’s and Hispanic and Black seniors are 1.52 times more likely than their White counterparts to develop the disease.

The Alzheimer’s Association is currently pouring $3.10 million into 915 research projects in 48 countries to help find a cure. Denzin said one way to prevent the disease is to have early detection.

“Research has revealed that there are some things that we can do to lower the risk of developing this disease which include lifestyle changes in exercise, diet, social socialization, cognitive stimulation and getting enough sleep,” he said.

Priorities for this legislative session include increasing investment in Alzheimer’s care and support.

The association has called legislators to support an investment of $10 million over the biennium for Alzheimer’s care and support at the Texas Department of State Health Services with an emphasis on increasing the early detection and diagnosis of the disease.

Plus, House Bill 568 would give law enforcement officers dementia training to assist those who have Alzheimer’s disease, Denzin mentioned.

“Without adequate training, law enforcement officers do not know how to work with people in these situations, which can lead to more confusion and potentially be costly,” he said. “Enhancing education and training to de-escalate can often effectively address situations ensuring the safety of individuals with dementia as well as those of our first responders. The Alzheimer’s Association is working with legislators to ensure that all new enforcement officers receive dementia training, as well as continuing education for those currently on the job.”

Shannon Dion, founding board member of Secure Our Seniors Safety, spoke also about having better protection for seniors when it comes to their safety.

Her mother was murdered by Billy Chemirmir in 2016. Chemirmir was charged and found guilty of murdering 22 senior citizens.

“Our goal is to ensure legislation is passed to improve senior security in residential establishments and increase awareness of vulnerability,” Dion said.

Last session, the group was able to push two bills pass and are hoping to get more passed in this session. “We are returning to Austin asking for support to improve senior security and protect the vulnerable,” Dion said.

Katherine Krause, president and CEO of Visiting Nurses Association Meals on Wheels, concluded the forum with a discussion how to help seniors avoid food insecurity. Krause said last year, the organization delivered over 1 million meals and are looking to feed more people this year through more assistance from the state.

“Currently, we receive about $5.31 to feed our seniors through the program but it is costing us between $7 to $8 a meal to produce and get the meals out to homebound seniors,” Krause concluded.

Sherman closed by emphasizing the importance of taking care of the senior citizen population.

“It is all of our responsibility that we have a relationship with all citizens,” Sherman said.

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