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Franken talks senior services in Slayton visit

August 24, 2010
By Deb Gau

SLAYTON -There's no doubt that local service organizations need help provide support for Minnesota seniors, Sen. Al Franken said Monday. It's also a need that transcends the divide between rural and urban Minnesota.

"I've had meetings just like this in the Twin Cities," Franken said after talking with regional service workers on Monday afternoon.

Franken, D-Minn., was meeting with members of the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging in Slayton on Monday to get their ideas on how funds from the Older Americans Act should be used when the legislation is reauthorized.

"We want to make sure we do this right," Franken told service providers. In a nutshell, he said, the point of the Older Americans Act was to help more seniors be able to stay in their homes.

Representatives from MNRAAA, as well as the Southwest Regional Development Commission and Lutheran Social Services, shared their concerns.

Jay Trusty, executive director of SWRDC, said the Older Americans Act has a big impact on the services available for area seniors and caregivers.

"The Older Americans Act gives a lot of funding for human services," Trusty said, which in turn affects everything from senior dining programs to legal assistance. However, human services funding has been a target for cuts. In some cases, Trusty said, there may not be much left to cut. For example, the Senior Linkage help line service available in southwest Minnesota is managed through a statewide server.

"We've achieved efficiency in those cases," he said. After a certain point, "It's hard to find any efficiencies left."

Transportation for seniors, especially reimbursing volunteer drivers, was one area where both Franken and service providers expected they would need help. Health care assistance was another key need for support, said Gail Radke of MNRAAA.

There's also a need for access to more mental health care options for seniors in southwest Minnesota, said Becky Wiens of Cottonwood County Family Services.

"I'm glad you brought up mental health," Franken said. "A lot of what I hear about is a sense of isolation and depression" among the elderly.

Rural seniors especially can feel isolated, service providers said. There's also growing difficulty in helping some seniors with more severe mental health needs.

With more and more state hospitals closing, Wiens said, "It's very difficult finding places for people to go." For example, nursing homes or smaller mental health units may not accept a resident with a history of assault incidents.

Respite care - programs that allow people a temporary break from taking care of an elderly family member - is also needed, said Kate Roberts of the Retired and Senior Volunteer Program.

Franken's visit to Slayton was one of several in the region on Monday. The itinerary included stops to discuss wind energy in Luverne and bioscience in Worthington, but Franken said he's been holding listening sessions about senior services all around the state.



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