Illinois launching community health care program for seniors

Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 5:09 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - Illinois senior citizens could have more convenient access to health care starting next summer. The Pritzker administration announced a new holistic care program Monday morning to provide an alternative for those who don’t want to live in nursing homes.

Gov. JB Pritzker and leaders from several state agencies launched the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly during Senior Day at the Illinois State Fair.

There are about 260,000 seniors in Illinois who rely on Medicare and Medicaid for their health care. Pritzker said his administration wants to make life easier for them.

The state’s new program puts a strong emphasis on innovative and comprehensive health care for seniors to stay comfortable in their community. Pritzker said seniors enrolling in the PACE program could receive personal care, individualized specialty care, therapy, medications, and mental health care among others.

“We’re bringing access right to our seniors’ doorsteps,” Pritzker said. “And if it’s covered by Medicare and Medicaid, it’s covered by PACE.”

Help will be available for Illinoisans 55 and older who qualify for nursing home care but are capable of living in their home or with family members. The administration explained PACE can also help coordinate a patient’s care if they require nursing home services after enrolling in the program.

Illinois will join 31 other states with PACE programs when the service launches during Fiscal Year 2024. Current PACE programs serve roughly 60,000 people across the country.

“This is something that we actually tried back in the 90s and it didn’t work out. We didn’t have enough interest in the state,” said Theresa Eagleson, Director of the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS). “We’ve just been trying to expand our options, and this is one more thing that we’re doing to do that.”

Eagleson explained that HFS chose eight health care organizations to receive initial PACE funding to help seniors in areas disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those organizations are located on the westside and southside of Chicago, Southern Cook County, Peoria, and East St. Louis.

“PACE will create for Illinois seniors a holistic and locally-based option that provides quality, integrated care,” said Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria). “The option to continue living safely in the community will greatly enhance the quality of life for Illinois seniors who enroll in the program.”

Retired nurse Anita Stenzel said she supports the community care initiative as long as it covers everyone and people don’t have to pay too much out of pocket.

“The Social Security, it doesn’t meet the rise in cost of living,” Stenzel said. “So if the cost doesn’t go up any higher, it would be okay.”

Stenzel stressed that there was never enough staff in the nursing home she worked in for many years. She said her facility was always short of two or three nurses, similar to the message of many nursing home employees today. While Stenzel appreciates the administration’s new idea, she said the state needs more people helping with wellness checks.

“People that could check on people that are living alone like I do,” Stenzel said. “Just knock on the door and check on them to make sure they’re okay.”

Stenzel said seniors can stay healthy by eating well and keeping their minds and bodies active as much as possible.

The Pritzker administration hopes to create more flexibility for seniors and their family members, caregivers, and health care providers. Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton said the new PACE program will be a major step for improving the health and well-being of older Illinoisans.

“We recognize that our seniors deserve to live with dignity and joy, that you deserve care and resources and support to continue being your amazing selves,” Stratton said.

Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis) also celebrated Monday’s announcement noting PACE will have a major impact on Illinois seniors and their loved ones.

“By creating an alternative to nursing home care that will allow seniors to continue living safely in the community while receiving the care they need, this program will make for better health outcomes and a better overall quality of life,” Greenwood said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health, Department on Aging, and HFS continued to encourage seniors to stay up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines. Seniors were able to get free booster shots inside the Illinois building during fair hours Monday.

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