Andrew Chesney


Andrew Chesney


Valentines for Seniors is More than Just a Card Drop

My office recently completed its first annual Valentines for Seniors program, and the response from the community exceeded all expectations. Between February 14 and15, my staff and I delivered over 2,300 valentines to 30 different nursing homes, and assisted living, rehabilitation, memory care centers in the seven-county region that makes up the 45th Senate District. The smiles on the seniors’ faces were priceless, and it was evident they felt appreciated and valued. Cards were made by public and private school children, church, scouting, and 4-H groups, and by residents who just wanted to bring some joy to seniors in their community.

The deliveries were part of the Senate Republican Caucus’ statewide Valentines for Seniors program, and this year, the 19 Republican Senators in Illinois delivered more than 60,000 valentines to seniors across the state.

During the delivery process here in Northwest Illinois, it became clear to me that what started as a community outreach event meant to make seniors in this area feel special became much, much more.

Visiting these senior centers provided my staff and me with a unique opportunity to connect with seniors on a very personal level and benefit from their wisdom and vast life experiences. We spoke with veterans, grandmothers and grandfathers, seniors who do not receive regular visitors, and those whose families visit often. I talked with individuals who grew up during the Great Depression, and those who went to work at a very young age to earn money that was handed over 100% to the family to help make ends meet. They all had interesting stories to share, and it was an amazing experience.

Some of the individuals with whom I visited had depleted their life savings on costly senior care, and others entered senior care relying solely on Medicaid. Those folks had to go to whatever Medicaid-accepted facility had a bed for them. In many cases, the facility where they landed was not near their families or other loved ones.

One thing I learned through these visits is that there is a distinct difference between private-pay and public-pay facilities for senior healthcare. Many of the private care facilities are top-notch, but extremely expensive. They carry a price tag of several thousands of dollars per month on a sliding scale according to services needed. This option is simply not affordable for many, perhaps even most, Illinoisans. For those who cannot afford private-pay centers, state-funded Medicaid-accepted facilities are their only option.

Nursing homes in Illinois are licensed, regulated, inspected, and certified by many public and private federal and state agencies, including the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services’ Health Care Financing Administration (HCFA). However, beyond the checking of boxes for mandated care and other services for the state-run senior facilities, these care centers often become lost under the huge umbrella of IDPH, the agency charged with setting the standards for nursing home care in Illinois.

IDPH oversees approximately 200 different state programs which are administered through a $2.9 billion budget. Inspections and enforcement of regulations are done with the overall goal of just getting them done on time. Unlike private sector senior care centers, government bureaucracy does not provide for personalized collaboration toward shared goals or improvement solutions.

I sit on the Senate’s Public Health Committee and hear regularly about staffing issues that undoubtedly affect the quality of care delivered at these state centers. Having seen the disparity between the private-pay and public-pay facilities firsthand, I would urge officials at IDPH to demand efficiency from every layer of the agency so that every available dollar can be channeled toward improving seniors’ experiences at state-funded senior care facilities.

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