Dealing with the waiting list blues

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

For more than two months now, Council on Aging has had a waiting list for the Hamilton County Elderly Services Program. When your mission is to help older adults remain independent in their homes, it’s hard to tell people they will have to wait for the services they need to do just that.

One of the bad things about having a waiting list is that it tends to breed rumors and misinformation. So here are some questions and answers designed to clarify the situation.

Q. Why do you have a waiting list?

A. Funding is limited and we cannot enroll and serve more people than we have money for. The Hamilton County Elderly Services Program gets more than 90 percent of its funding from the county senior services tax levy. Voters approved a renewal of the 1.29-mill levy in November, 2012. Because property values have decreased in the county overall, the levy generates less revenue than in the past. However, the need for services has increased as our population ages. Throughout this year, enrollment has outpaced projections, so we had to rein it in to keep the program within budget.

Q: Is the Hamilton County Elderly Services Program closed?

A: No – although we realize it may seem like it when you have to wait. But some people are being enrolled.

Q: Who is being enrolled?

A: People in critical need situations. For example, someone who is discharging from a hospital, has little to no family or community support, and will clearly have to move into a nursing facility if he or she cannot get long-term care services at home.

Q: How long will I have to wait?

A: Unfortunately, the waiting list is growing longer every day.  We cannot say how long the wait will be because there are so many variable factors, such as how many people may leave the program each month due to death or some other reason. All we can say is the wait at this point is “months” (for people who do not meet the critical need criteria).

Q: If I’m on the waiting list, should I keep calling in from time to time to see how much longer?

A: No, we will call you. We manage the waiting list by calling people periodically and asking whether they still need the services. Sometimes we find that families have worked out alternatives and don’t need to be on the list any longer. If that’s the case, we remove the name and that shortens the list for everyone. Other times, we may find a situation has deteriorated to the point where a person might move up to critical need status.

Q: If I come to the top of the list does that mean I’m automatically enrolled in the program?

A: No, you must have a face-to-face assessment and go through the normal eligibility process. You may or may not be found eligible for the program. This is normal procedure for the Elderly Services Program and is always done, regardless of whether there is a waiting list.

Q: If the wait is “months,” I wonder whether I should bother getting on the list at all?

A: That’s certainly your choice. But the list is basically first-come, first-served (except for critical need as indicated above). So, if and when we are able to enroll people in non-critical situations, the higher up on the list you are, the more quickly you may be able to enroll in the program.

Q: What do you suggest for people who need help but are on the waiting list?

A: Sometimes people who ask about enrolling in the program do say that they might be able to pay privately for services, at least for a while. If that’s the case, we provide them with a list of Hamilton County Elderly Services Program providers. These are not all the organizations you might try for services such as an emergency response device or bathroom grab bars, or transportation, for example, but they are the organizations Council on Aging has contracts with to provide services within the program.

We also refer people to our extensive online Resource Directory where they can find other community resources that might help.