Bill would transform services to seniors in Rhode Island
STATE HOUSE – Rep. Lauren H. Carson has introduced legislation to transform the state’s Office of Healthy Aging into a far more robust and comprehensive agency to better serve the needs of Rhode Island’s seniors.
The legislation (2022-H 7616) would expand the office to a full-fledged state department, expand its director’s authority, and appoint local senior centers as hubs for service delivery, with authority to bill Medicaid for transportation services.
“Rhode Island should invest much more than we do in services that enable people to age in place and safely remain in their communities. Those services are far more cost-efficient overall, and encourage an active, more fulfilling lifestyle for people as they age. Considering that a quarter of our population consists of seniors, and that ratio is growing as the Baby Boomers join them, now is the time,” said Representative Carson (D-Dist. 75, Newport). “Working cooperatively with the senior centers operating around the state, we could make it much easier for people to access the support they need as they age, and really make the quality of life much better for the entire older population of our state.”
The legislation would authorize the new Department of Healthy Aging to protect and enable seniors to stay healthy and independent by providing meals, health programs, transportation, benefits counseling and more. Under the bill, the department would provide professional development to agencies and programs that provide services to seniors in the state and become a clearing house to help those agencies and businesses assist senior centers, which would serve as hubs for the delivery of services from the state.
In particular, the bill directs the new department to manage and develop a multi-tiered transportation system that works with the Department of Human Services, the Department of Transportation, senior centers and with all existing modes of public transportation to develop transportation plans that suit the elderly population of each municipality. The director would be enabled to authorize senior centers to bill Medicaid for transportation they provide.
“Transportation is one of the biggest challenges to the independence of the aging population in Rhode Island,” said Rep. Susan R. Donovan (D-Dist. 69, Bristol, Portsmouth) who is chairwoman of the House Oversight Committee’s Senior Services Subcommittee and is cosponsoring the bill. The Oversight Committee has held multiple hearings on problems with the contractor providing transport services for the elderly and disabled. “Our bus system is limited and does not serve all communities, and there has been a lot of dissatisfaction with the transportation company that is serving our elderly and disabled population. Working with each municipality and empowering the senior centers to run local service would provide transportation that is much better suited to each community’s needs. Creating reliable and comprehensive local transit for seniors would make a world of difference in enabling older Rhode Islanders to live safely and independently in their own homes.”
The legislation also seeks to have the new department develop and submit to the General Assembly a funding formula to meet the requirements the new law sets forth, including input from seniors and the caregivers and allocating funding to each municipality based on its senior population, with restrictions that the funding be used only for senior programs.
The legislation has been sent to the House Finance Committee, and its cost has not yet been determined.
Representative Carson said, at minimum, this bill is intended to start an important conversation among state leaders about appropriately providing for Rhode Island’s aging population.
“Whether or not we pass this bill this year, we have to address the needs of our growing older population. Leaving those needs unmet has a much greater price tag than decent locally administered basic programs would. Our whole state would be better served by investments that keep seniors safe with support in their community,” she said.
The other cosponsors of the bill include Rep. Deborah Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown), Rep. James N. McLaughlin (D-Dist. 57, Cumberland, Central Falls), Rep. Terri Cortvriend (D-Dist. 72, Portsmouth, Middletown), Rep. June S. Speakman (D-Dist. 68, Warren, Bristol), Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence) and Rep. Brandon Potter (D-Dist. 16, Cranston).