State financing for the Meals on Wheels program is being argued in the legislature right now. It is bill LD 692, “Resolve, To Provide Meals to Homebound Individuals.” The cost to taxpayers will be $500,000 per year.

We believe these funds are a cost saving investment, and that passage is essential in maintaining the social fabric of our state, and a state covenant with our aging citizens suffering from food insecurity to provide a basic social safety net. We hope that after you read this article, you will contact your legislators to voice your support.

Let’s take it as a given that everyone feels compassion for aging citizens and doesn’t want to see them go hungry. And let’s agree that even with compassion, we should question whether valuable tax dollars are being well spent. That’s our starting point, especially after being recently accused of supporting increased state funding for Meals on Wheels simply because it makes us feel good about ourselves as compassionate people.

Yes, we like to help people, and we feel good about doing so. However, we are also responsible business people and administrators who understand budgets and bottom lines. State investment in the Meals on Wheels program makes excellent budget sense for our taxpayers.

It is clear that it costs the state less money for seniors to be able to age in place in their homes instead of having to move into an assisted living community or nursing home. The cost for meals at home for an entire year is about $2,000. The cost of a nursing home is about $75,000 per year. MaineCare assisted living is about $28,000 per year.

Meals delivered to aging seniors in their homes helps those seniors remain at home through improved nutrition, and because the volunteer drivers are also performing a safety check on the clients receiving meals.

Meal deliveries cut down on social isolation, and cut down on ER department visits. When a senior has been recently released from a hospital is when they are most vulnerable to a readmission. Hospitals are penalized by Medicare if a readmission occurs in less than 30 days.

Maine Health Senior Director Peggy Haynes testified that their project to provide meals to seniors after a hospital discharge reduces readmission rates. She testified that their food delivery program “demonstrates the profound impact meals have on the health and well-being of vulnerable older adults.”

It is clear that Meals on Wheels reduces the strain on our already-overburdened rural hospitals.

Sharon Berz testified for Aroostook County. “Research shows patients come home from hospital stays in a weakened condition. Tea and toast don’t build strength. A byproduct of poor nutrition is susceptibility to infection. The cost of meals over two weeks is $105. The cost of hospital readmission within 30 days is $13,800.”

Jessica Mauer is the executive director for the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging, which are the five Area Agencies on Aging that administer Meals on Wheels throughout the state. In the Midcoast, the MOW meal distributors are Senior Plus and Spectrum Generations.

Jess testified that last year, more than a half million meals were delivered by hundreds of volunteers to 4,700 seniors. For the last 10 years, federal funding has been flat while costs have increased through inflation. Now we have waiting lists for food insecure seniors to receive Meals on Wheels in three of the five AAA regions.

Fundraising and donations cannot keep up with the increasing demand. This is why the Maine Council on Aging and many other agencies and health care organizations, including Maine Health, are asking for $500,000 in increased state funding for Meals on Wheels, and for the Department of Health and Human Services to convene a work group to research food access barriers, both regionally and statewide, to help ensure regular, adequate nutrition for homebound individuals.

So yes, we want our citizens to be willing to pay for additional funding for Meals on Wheels. We want it because it is the right thing to do and the compassionate thing to do. And we want it because it makes profound financial sense in so many ways. We see it as incredibly smart, fiscally responsible and socially compassionate legislation.

Jill Wallace is owner and director of 56 Elm Street Assisted Living in Topsham. Steve Raymond is director of community outreach at the Lincoln Home Senior Retirement Community in Newcastle, and is producer and host of the LCTV show, “Spotlight on Seniors.”

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