Op/Ed: Meals on Wheels saves for taxpayers

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Program allows seniors to continue living in their homes, rather than needing full-time care

By Jeani Purcell, Special to The Times

Jean who is a 78 year- old widow lost the use of her right hand after she suffered a stroke.  After 45 days in the hospital she returned to her home of 48 years, discovering that she could no longer prepare meals safely.  She turned to her local Meals on Wheels (MOW) program for nutritious home-delivered meals so that she could maintain her health.  Jean will tell you: “I couldn’t manage by myself.  If I didn’t get Meals on Wheels, I don’t know where I would be…maybe living in a nursing home.”

MOW programs provide our home-bound elderly and disabled individuals with nutritious meals that are delivered to their homes by caring volunteers.  Without the meals they receive to help them live independently in their homes, these older Americans likely would have to be placed in less desirable and much more costly institutional settings such as nursing homes.

How do Meals on Wheels programs save taxpayers money?  The bottom line is:  Providing home-delivered meals is a good investment that actually saves money in the long-run.  One year of meals delivered to the home each weekday costs on average $995 in Chester County, that’s just $3.77 per meal.  The federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) estimate the average cost of one Medicare day in a hospital as $1,156.  And a national survey in 2010 showed the average length of stay to be between 5 and 6 days.   In addition, the Medicaid reimbursement for nursing home care in the state of Pennsylvania averages $51,000 a year versus $20,892 for in-home services for those who are nursing-home eligible (home-delivered meals is one of these services).  We all pay for these services through our taxes – why not choose the less expensive alternative which is the one that most seniors prefer?

It is estimated that 50 percent of all diseases impacting older Americans are directly connected to a lack of nutritious food.  We are spending billions of Medicare and Medicaid dollars annually under federal and state medical and long-term care programs by not adequately providing for our seniors’ nutritional needs.

A 2009 report entitled “The Causes, Consequences, and Future of Senior Hunger in America”, commissioned by the Meals on Wheels Association of America Foundation,   states that “hunger and a lack of proper nutrients significantly increases the risk that seniors will suffer from poor or fair health that not only diminishes their quality of life, but also increases the burden on our long-term care and health insurance systems.”

Homebound seniors and adults with disabilities who receive home-delivered meals are assured of getting the healthy diet they need, leading to greater independence and quality of life.  Study after study shows that seniors want to remain living in their own homes for as long as possible.  In-home services like your local Meals on Wheels programs help them to remain there.

A modest investment in MOW programs that combat senior hunger and promote good nutrition goes a long way in reducing overall expenditures.  Yet, government funding for MOW programs in Pennsylvania (through the Older American Act, federal block grant monies, lottery monies, and aging waiver monies) has remained stagnant or decreased over the last 7 years.  Over the same time period, food costs have risen 25%, with a commensurate rise in labor, utilities and other costs of carrying out this program.  Luckily, MOW programs have the commitment of thousands of dedicated volunteers who deliver the meals, provide a community connection and keep these programs cost effective.  Most MOW programs rely upon the generosity of private funders, some to fill in the government funding gaps, and others to completely fund their programs.

In a time when over 8 million older Americans are at risk of hunger in our great nation and our economy is still not bouncing back, we need to make every taxpayer dollar and every donated dollar count!  Remember the saying:  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure?   On behalf of your local MOW program in Chester County, PA, please consider helping your neighbors by donating funds to provide meals or volunteering to deliver meals to homebound seniors and disabled individuals in your community.  They rely on you to care.  Please contact the Meals on Wheels of Chester County office at 610-430-8500 or visit the website at www.mowcc.org.

Jeani Purcell is the Director of Chester County Meals on Wheels.

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