By Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos
Delaware’s population is aging. Look at the demographic trends: existing residents growing older, retirees relocating here, and longer lifespans. It’s clear: the First State is graying quickly.
Today, more Delawareans are making multi-generational family planning decisions. This “sandwich generation” is not only raising children, but are often also caring for an aging parent or loved one. Many are helping parents determine whether they can continue to live independently or whether it’s time for them to consider an assisted living facility or skilled nursing facility. These can be stressful and emotional conversations to begin with, made even more difficult when confronting the high costs of these facilities.
When we read the troubling accounts of elder care recently captured by Meredith Newman, families and caregivers are understandably concerned about the quality of care their own loved one may receive. While these stories are difficult to stomach, I thank The News Journal for its continued coverage of this issue, because Delawareans deserve to know that our state’s eldercare network falls short for some of our neighbors — whether they receive care in or out of the home.
Since I was first elected, one of my top legislative priorities has been to improve the quality of life for our aging Delawareans, their families, and caregivers. In 2021, I launched the Aging-in-Place Working Group, convening policy experts and stakeholders to examine our state’s home eldercare landscape. That group produced several policy recommendations aimed at improving health outcomes for the seniors that choose to remain in the comfort of their own home.
Then last year, we formed the Long-Term Care and Memory Care Task Force, which focused on the quality of care, workforce needs, and training standards for our state’s long-term care facilities — especially those that offer memory care services.
We heard gut-wrenching stories from community members who had negative experiences at facilities across our state. We learned the impact on residents when facilities are constantly understaffed, elevating levels of risk across the board. Whether residents are paying tens of thousands of dollars each year to reside in a long-term care facility, or are people on a fixed income and limited to few facilities, all our state’s long-term care facilities should be providing all their residents the support and care they need and deserve.
On the other hand, we heard about several positive patient experiences. Some facilities are providing remarkably high-quality care and service. We analyzed how these facilities were operating, developing best practices that could be adopted by other providers across our state committed to high-quality service and care.
After meeting for nine months, the task force developed 19 recommendations, which led to the introduction of five bills in the General Assembly this past spring. We passed two of the task force’s recommendations back in June — increasing cultural competency standards for long-term care facilities’ staff, and mandating a review and report of laws and regulations governing skilled nursing and long-term care facilities.
But there is much more work to be done.
This is not an issue that can wait and we, as policymakers, need to act because Delawareans deserve to age with dignity. Let me be clear: Delaware must invest in services for its seniors and their caregivers. If we don’t, there will be dire economic consequences as the emotional and economic strain on caregivers, who are often in their prime earning years, and care workers increases. We must develop a comprehensive strategy to accommodate not only the health care needs of Delaware’s aging population, but also reimagine their transportation, social, and housing needs. In order to support this strategy, it’s imperative to recruit, grow and retain a dedicated workforce to sustain these needs for generations to come.
When the General Assembly reconvenes in January, I will be moving forward with the recommendations developed through the Aging-in-Place Working Group and the Long-Term Care Task Force. I encourage my colleagues to support these initiatives, so that we may continue our commitment to improving eldercare for all.
State Senator Spiros Mantzavinos represents the 7th District, which encompasses Elsmere, Greenbank, Marshallton, the Lancaster Pike/Newport Gap Pike areas and portions of Newport and Stanton.