The Georgia Council on Aging was formed in 1977 by the Georgia Legislature. Their mission is to advocate on behalf of aging Georgians and their families to improve their quality of life, make recommendations concerning programs for the elderly in Georgia, and serve in advisory capacity on aging issues to the Georgia government. In today’s episode, nursing home abuse lawyers Rob Schenk and Will Smith talk about this organization with Kathy Floyd, Executive Director of the GCoA.
Schenk: Hello out there and welcome back. My name is Rob Schenk.
Smith: And I’m Will Smith.
Schenk: And we are – we are your hosts. I got caught off guard there. Sometimes you can hear the traffic outside and it confuses me because I have headphones on, so it seems like it’s happening like in the studio, like a motorcycle driving by. Will’s the type of person where has one of those motorcycles that you can hear from six blocks away and he loves it. He wishes that he could make his motorcycle louder.
Smith: I hate motorcycles.
Schenk: Yeah, I was just kidding. A lot of good information on the podcast today. That’s why Will wants to jump right into it, sink his teeth into the information that we have. We’re going to be talking about the Georgia Council of Aging, and what better way to do that than to have someone intimately involved in the organization. How about the executive director, Kathy Floyd? Kathy Floyd, we’re going to have on the show to talk about the Georgia Council of Aging. Will, why don’t you tell us a little bit more about Kathy.
Smith: Absolutely. She is a fellow Georgia State alum.
Schenk: Go Panthers.
Smith: She has been the executive director of the Georgia Council of Aging for almost five years. Before that, she worked with AARP Georgia for almost two decades. She has spearheaded legislative campaigns on state and federal issues, including Social Security, Medicare, long-term care and consumer issues, and she has served on the Board of Directors for Georgia Watch, Georgians for Health Futures and Georgia Gerontology Associations. She received the 2005 Champion of Justice Award from the Georgia Consumer Justice Foundation and the 2008 Aging Advocate of the Year Award from the Gerontology Institute at Georgia State University. She is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and received her MBA from Georgia State. She and her family live close by in Roswell, Georgia.
Schenk: Kathy, welcome to the show.
Kathy: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Schenk: Fantastic. Well we like to have, every once in a while, episodes with a representative of different organizations that are looking out for the health and welfare of our elders in the state of Georgia, and what better organization to have on than somebody with the Georgia Council of Aging, so Kathy…
Smith: And formerly with Georgia AARP.
Schenk: And formerly with AARP.
Smith: For almost 20 years.
Schenk: For almost 20 years, yeah.
Schenk: Yeah, so if for all of our listeners, most of our audience is family members who have a loved one in a nursing home, so for all those people out there, can you tell us what the Georgia Council of Aging is, the background, history, that kind of thing?
Kathy: Certainly. Certainly. The Council was created over 40 years ago by the legislature to advise state government on issues around senior citizens. So our total mission is to advocate for the 60+ population in Georgia.
Schenk: So it’s an advocacy group.
Schenk: So what are some of the prospects that you’re looking at in terms of legislative agendas maybe in this session or in the previous few sessions?
Kathy: Sure. We go through a process every year where we put out a call for anybody in Georgia can present to us a problem that they think needs to be solved. It has to be something that can be solved at the state legislature, you know, issues with Social Security and Medicare are basically federal programs, but if it can be addressed at the state legislature, we put it before our membership – we’ve got almost 1,000 members across the state, and our membership votes to determine what we should spend our time on.
Every year, our priority is to look at ways to keep seniors as independent as long as possible, those are looking at programs that help people remain in their home and independent. So those are home and community-based services and those are all the different ways that you can stay out of a nursing home as long as possible, and that’s always a top issue for us.
And then issues around elder abuse have been a priority for us – ways to prevent it, ways to fight it, prosecute it, that has been a major issue for us the last several years also, and we’ve been involved in some oral health issues, to help dental hygienists. It goes a little broader but that’s kind of the main areas.
Smith: And I want to hear a little bit more about these efforts, these community-based efforts to keep seniors in their homes. How widespread throughout Georgia is this? Is this mainly in the rural areas? Is the mainly in the metro area? Does it extend out into the rural areas?
Kathy: Oh yeah, no, there are programs all across the state of Georgia. The area Agencies on Aging, there are 12 in Georgia, cover the entire state. And they have a program called the Aging and Disability Resource Connection, known as ADRC, and that is a way that anybody in Georgia that has an issue with an older person or even somebody with a disability that they need to know, “What are my options? They can’t live totally independently any longer.” And that is a way you can find out in your particular community what are your options? What kinds of things are available and what the costs are? And if you’re able to pay private pay, what are your options? If you need some assistance, what are those options?
There are also in the Centers for Independent Living, which are specifically for folks with a disability, so there are 21 centers around the state that have those aging and disability resource connections, so they are in every part of the state.
Schenk: Yeah, it’s funny that you mention that. We tape a lot of these podcasts together in one day – we call it our production day, and we’re actually speaking with a guest about the ADRC.
Kathy: Wonderful. Wonderful.
Schenk: Yeah, this individual actually works with the New Mexico ADRC, but we’ll have to have somebody on from the Georgia ADRC or representing the ADRC there.
Kathy: Oh, for sure. Definitely. And we have a major priority around some funding for that connection because there has not been a designated line item to support that in the state. It’s a mandate from the feds to have it, and yet, those centers have to pull funding from different pots, and every year, it’s a struggle to see, you know, are we going to have the money, and they actually had major cuts the last two years, so we are going to the legislature to ask for some designated funding to support that system because it’s a great, fairly unknown resource, although they helped over 95,000 Georgians over the last fiscal year.
Smith: Yeah, absolutely. We’ve worked with the elderly for a very long time. I’ve been working with nursing home residents almost 20 years now, actually. There’s nothing better than just staying at home. If you kept somebody at home and they’re happy and if that’s where they choose to answer God’s calling and pass away, that’s the best scenario there is, absolutely.
Kathy: Yes. And every year, I collect the data to show that it’s not just the right thing to do. It’s not just what the family and what the individual wants, but it saves taxpayer dollars, because on average, these services cost a tenth of what it costs either the taxpayers to pay for Medicaid nursing home beds. And I’ll tell you, over 80 percent of the beds in Georgia are paid for with either Medicaid or very limited some rehab beds and Medicare. So it saves money too.
Smith: Yeah, and that’s a good point you bring up. I think that a lot of people forget that, that the vast majority of nursing home residents are being, their care is provided for by CMS, which is taxpayer funded.
Kathy: Yes, exactly.
Smith: That’s when you start opening yourself up to all kinds of other issues. We had just spoken with somebody recently about the amount of waste and fraud that there is within the Medicare program, and it’s billions and billions each year, so programs like the one you’re talking about, yeah, not only is it the right thing to do, but it’s the right thing to do from a fiscal perspective as well.
Schenk: And Kathy, you mentioned data collection and analyzing data to promote what the topic or the agenda’s going to be for your members in a particular legislative session. Where are you guys gaining that data? Are you commissioning it and doing it yourselves or how do you come by the information that you’re getting?
Kathy: We get it, we make requests from the parts of the state government that monitor that, so the non-Medicaid community home based services, and those are for folks who make too much to qualify for Medicaid but they can’t pay the full amount, so that program is administered out of the Department of Human Services, and then the Medicaid HCBS and then, of course, the Medicaid nursing home beds, those are in the Department of Community Health. So I have my connections and I make my requests and get that information every fall so that I have the current numbers for the past fiscal year.
Schenk: Got you. And can you take us back logistically in terms of – you said there are 1,000 members. Is it 1,000 members across the state? What are the demographics of the membership? Is there a board of directors, this type of thing? How does it actually function and operate?
Kathy: Well the Council is 20 members on a council. It is like a board of directors, and those folks are appointed by the governor, the lieutenant governor, the speaker and the commissioner of the Department of Human Services. And those 20 people are my board of directors, my bosses. They serve, volunteer. They are 10 consumers and 10 providers and they provide the leadership for the Council of Aging, and I’m the staff person, I’m the lead staff person and I have two staff people in my office that help me, so there are just three staff, but our councilmembers are very dedicated and very active.
And we have a range of folks. We have a retired fellow who had a home care agency who’s on our council. We have a state ombudsman who’s on our council. We have a woman who’s a director of senior services in Savannah, in Ball Ground, Ellijay, Albany. They’re from all over the state. We have a fellow who runs an assisted living facility. The director of the Health Care Association of Georgia, which is the nursing home association, is on my council. We have a wide range of folks that kind of provide my oversight for the council. And that is the council.
The council was in existence about 10 years until they figured out they really needed more people than that to make a difference, so they started a coalition called COAGE, Coalition of Advocates for Georgia’s Elderly, and COAGE is the coalition that has almost 1,000 members across the state and that’s individual members and that’s just people who are concerned, it’s seniors, it’s people who work in senior services, it’s organizations, it’s all of the major organizations that work on senior issues. It’s providers, it’s students – we have just a broad range of folks that are part of the COAGE coalition. It’s open to everybody. The organizational membership is only $100 a year. The individual membership is only 25, and you can join for free. You get everything except the right to vote in the summer on what the priorities are. So it’s very easy to join. You can go on our website and you can join online and you get our information on a regular basis.
And I’ll tell you, what is a great way to keep up with what we’re doing is our Facebook page. We have over 1,500 people that follow us on our Facebook page and we’re very active with posting and keeping up with what’s going on.
Schenk: That’s pretty good. That’s actually more than the amount of people that follow Will on his Instagram. I think it’s interesting that the council is made up of 50/50 industry representatives basically and consumers. That’s a good mix. You theoretically, you wouldn’t swing too far one way or the other.
Kathy: And we really have – the mission is to really represent the senior, so that’s what we focus on. When we have been involved in supporting legislation with different organizations having, but we always focus on what is the best thing for the senior that’s involved.
Schenk: Right, right, right, right.
Smith: I had a question about one of your priorities, because I’ve been checking out your website.
Smith: Just one of the things you have on here, the personal care home requirements.
Smith: How big of an issue is this here in Georgia?
Kathy: Well there are over 1,400 personal care homes in Georgia, so there are a lot of them. The majority of them, over 900, are the smaller ones, one to six beds, but there are a number that are over 100 beds.
Kathy: So there is a range and this really came out of one of our members in Augusta. The paper there did an excellent job of looking at the problems with unlicensed personal care homes but also with licensed personal care homes, and we saw that the rules and regs had not been updated for over 20 years, and so we’ve been working on this for over 15 months, and actually in two weeks, the Department of Community Health and their department is called Healthcare Facility Regulation, and those the both that regulate personal care homes – they regulate nursing homes and assisted living and a whole range of hospitals, but we’re looking at personal care homes, and they’re going to be bringing stakeholders together to look at updating these rules and regs. So we’re very excited that our efforts have paid off in pulling these stakeholders together to make these needed changes.
Smith: That’s awesome. And this website is great. It really is.
Kathy: Thank you.
Smith: We’ll put a link up to it for those that see the video, but it’s got a lot of interesting facts on here, and one of them is what we were just talking about a couple minutes ago, and it’s the average cost of the different options for a senior, and you’ve got the home based services under 2,000, and then the Medicaid nursing homes, 21,000. These are eye-opening statistics. I hope that this strikes a chord with members of Georgia’s legislature.
Kathy: It does. It does. It does.
Smith: So do you guys do a lot of work with the Georgia Long-Term Care Ombudsmen Program?
Kathy: Yes, oh yes. Yes, in fact, they’ve been very active with this effort to update the personal care home requirements and we will be relying on their values and expertise as we look at what that provider will be. We want providers involved in this too, but as we look at what makes sense, they are a vital part of that effort. Melanie McNeill is the state long-term care ombudsman, and she does an excellent job.
Smith: Oh yeah, we love Melanie. We’ve had her on the show a couple of times.
Schenk: We see her out and about.
Smith: Yeah, she’s also a fellow GSU Law School grad. She’s great. She’s a tireless advocate.
Schenk: Speaking of advocates, are there any – who are the particular members of the legislature that kind of listen to what you guys are saying? Are there any particular allies in the Georgia politics?
Kathy: Oh sure. I would say Senator Renee Unterman is a great supporter of ours. She is the chair of the Health Committee in the Senate, and a lot of our legislation goes through that committee. She’s also the chair of the Budget Committee in the Senate, and so she really has been a great supporter in the same way that Katie Dempsey on the House side from Rome. Renee is from Gwinnett, Katie is from Rome – she chairs the Budget Committee where we ask for our funding. She is a good supporter and is – we keep her up to date with what’s going on in her area. Sharon Cooper is from Cobb, a representative in the House. She’s the chair of the Health Committee in the House and she has been just a great supporter, especially on the legislative side. We did have a retirement with one of our really great supporters.
Smith: Yes, yes you did.
Kathy: Wendell Willard from my area in Roswell, and he authored several of the great elder abuse bills that have passed in the last few years. I’m very anxious to find out who’s going to be the new chair of the Judiciary in the House, because that’s such an important position for us because we work on elder abuse issues.
Smith: Yeah, Wendell is leaving big shoes to fill there.
Kathy: Yes, yes.
Smith: That’s a big change for Georgia. He’ll be missed for sure. He’s always been a friend of the elderly.
Kathy: Yes, definitely. And there’s a whole range of folks that I really rely on. There’s a fairly new state senator from north Atlanta, north Fulton in Cobb, Senator Kay Kirkpatrick has been a great help. Senator Brian Strickland authored a fingerprinting bill this past session to fingerprint all long-term care workers, which is just a huge step forward in preventing abuse.
Smith: Absolutely. That’s a brilliant idea. Yeah.
Kathy: Yeah, oh definitely. Right there in Atlanta, of course, Representative Pat Gardner who has always been a long-term friend of ours. The chair of Human Relations and Aging is fairly new but has been a big supporter, Eddie Lumsden, north of Rome. Who else can I throw out there? There’s just a lot of folks down there. Terry England who chairs the Appropriations Committee in the House has had issues with Alzheimer’s in his family and understands what seniors can face when they need help has been a big supporter. There’s just – I could go on and on.
Smith: Well it’s really a bipartisan issue.
Kathy: Yes, it is.
Smith: As far as I’m concerned, there’s no partisan politics at play here. We’re all going to be older one day and we all have older loved ones.
Smith: It’s as sure as anything else. Yeah, but it’s important that we have advocates like you guys, because without it, I don’t know what the disconnect is with seniors sometimes, but we have to have that advocacy.
Kathy: Right. Exactly. And I tell you, one of my favorite long-time advocates actually passed away early this year, Chuck Ware, who I just miss terribly, but he always said, “If you’re not at the table, chances are you’re on the menu,” and that’s definitely true.
Schenk: Kathy, one of the questions we wanted to ask you was the concept of “no wrong door” services. Can you tell us what that means?
Kathy: Yes. So that applies to the Aging and Disability Resource Connection, and that concept there that is really nationwide is that when you call the Aging and Disability Resource Connection, you are going to get help. So that if you need to be transferred to – if you have somebody with a brain injury, they’re not going to get you a phone number for you to then have to call somewhere else. They will do a warm transfer to you to the folks that can help you. They are going to work with you and address what your issue is without saying, “No, that’s not our job.”
Schenk: That’s great. That’s fantastic. And Kathy, with regard to the Georgia Council of Aging, what’s the best way for the people out there to get in touch with you or get in touch with the council?
Smith: Or donate or whatever it is they can do?
Kathy: We’re not allowed to take donations, but we do encourage membership.
Schenk: Got you.
Kathy: Membership is great. And we do have opportunities for folks to sponsor. We are the ones that coordinate Senior Week at the Capital every year. That is going to be February 6th and 7th this year, and we have hundreds of seniors come from all over the state to visit the state capital and connect with their legislator, and we are looking for table sponsorships for that. You’ll have access to those hundreds of seniors. But it’s the website, which is simply GCLA.org, and our phone number is 404-657-5343, and we would love to hear from you.
Schenk: Great, Kathy. Is there anything else you’d want to say about the Georgia Council of Aging to our audience?
Kathy: No, just I appreciate you guys. You guys have been very thorough and I appreciate the opportunity to tell our story.
Schenk: And Kathy, again, we thank you for all your hard work and for the hard work of the Georgia Council of Aging, and we look forward to talking to you maybe in the future about what’s going on in the legislature.
Kathy: Sure. Certainly. Certainly.
Kathy: Thank you.
Schenk: Thanks, Kathy.
Smith: All right, thank you, Kathy.
Schenk: I love the idea of Senior Week, kind of like Bike Week, you know what I mean? But with seniors and for an actual purpose that’s beneficial for the community.
Smith: It’s amazing the amount of success that this organization has had. The Senior Week is sold out every year. They have amazing connections with the Georgia Legislature. It just makes you feel good knowing that there are advocates for the elderly in all of their different aspects, including as consumers, which is kind of what we tend to deal with, a lot of consumer protection issues for the elderly, including nursing home abuse and neglect, but there’s also a wide variety of different problems that we can’t address, so it’s good to have people like this that are doing it.
Schenk: That’s right. Well I think that’s a good spot to cut it off. This podcast is available, fresh episodes every Monday morning. You can either listen to the audio on any podcast application that you like, so iTunes, Stitcher, Spotify, Google Play, or you can watch the podcast, and you can do that either on our YouTube channel or at our website, which is NursingHomeAbusePodcast.com, that is NursingHomeAbusePodcast – no, that’s not what it is. It’s NursingHomeAbuse – no, it’s NursingHomeAbusePodcast.com.
Smith: We’re going to have another cup of coffee here pretty soon.
Schenk: Yeah, exactly. It’s early in the morning. But anyways, with that, we’ll see you next time.
Smith: See you next time.