Sen. Franken visits southwest MinnesotaSLAYTON — Senator Al Franken visited southwest Minnesota Monday, stopping in Luverne, Tyler, Slayton and Worthington to discuss a variety of subjects that ranged from wind energy projects to bioscience.
SLAYTON — Senator Al Franken visited southwest Minnesota Monday, stopping in Luverne, Tyler, Slayton and Worthington to discuss a variety of subjects that ranged from wind energy projects to bioscience.
In Slayton, Franken and his staff discussed the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (OAA) and listened to information about funding usage for Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging (MNRAAA), Lutheran Social Services, Cottonwood County Family Services Senior Services (CCFSSS) and the Senior LinkAge Line.
Jay Trusty, Executive Director of the Southwest Regional Development Commission, said he learned about a week ago that Franken was going to visit Slayton to discuss the needs being brought forth at outreach meetings.
Franken stated he and his staff had been conducting listening sessions around the state regarding OAA. He was not surprised to learn, he said, that transportation was an issue, but was interested in learning what other funding problems senior programs were facing.
“There are big issues out there,” said MNRAAA Advisory Council member Chuck Severson. “This year, I don’t know how the funding will look for the issues such as transportation, health care and mental health.”
Tracy Voehl of CCFSSS spoke of the Elderly Waiver (EW) program, which among other things, helps support caregivers by means of respite care and training.
“Children move out of the areas to accept jobs and their elderly parents are staying here,” she explained, adding that the burden of care giving can fall to neighbors and volunteers. “We need more education, they need to know it is OK to accept the services and we need to work with physicians and ministers and get to these people before they are at their wit’s end.
The importance of respite care was emphasized by every professional in the room. The Title III program of the OAA provides for some care, which is an essential part of helping caregivers “keep their sanity.”
Voehl and others explained the difficulties of finding placement for certain older individuals who had medical needs or simple housing needs but were not allowed to live in some community environments because of problems in their background. With the closing of state mental health facilities, seniors with prison or sexual abuse backgrounds are getting harder to place.
“There are long-term solutions, such as early childhood education and parenting,” Franken offered. “And isn’t there a certain age when the (sexual assault) issue goes away?”
Franken later admitted he was unaware of the closings of some state mental health facilities.
Gail Radke, Senior Outreach Specialist with MNRAAA, spoke of the help offered to all seniors by the Senior LinkAge Line, a toll-free phone line that connects seniors with the programs they need or offers assistance with Medicare, EW and other program questions.
“We help get them services so they can stay in their homes longer,” Radke explained.
“When people call, are they scared? Or reticent to take help?” Franken asked.
“Some are scared, some are at their wit’s end,” Radke replied.
There are two people in Slayton who answer the Linkage calls, she said, for 27 counties.
Trusty explained that there are no servers in Slayton because the LinkAge Line uses voice-over IP technology and is housed in St. Paul.
“There aren’t any efficiencies left to find,” he added. “We can’t squeeze anything more out of the productive end.”
Radke also gave Franken a quick run-down on other programs, such as the Return to Community program, which helps seniors find the services to return to their own homes after hospital or nursing home stays.
“You really do an amazing amount,” Franken commented.
Andrea Lingel of Lutheran Social Services spoke of the senior nutrition programs, including congregate dining and Meals on Wheels.
“We have problems with transportation,” she admitted. “It can be hard to get Meals on Wheels to rural homes.”
Many volunteers are seniors themselves, she explained, and seniors are staying in the work force longer these days.
After listening to each person in the room and asking a number of questions, Franken thanked them for all they do.
“I can’t tell you how impressed I am with the work and you and the passion you show for it,” he said. “We need to do this (OAA) in the smartest way possible, and we are counting on your experience to accomplish that.”