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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published February 20 2011

Bursack: Ombudsman can advise on options for mother

Dear Carol: My mother’s been in an assisted-living facility for five years. She still likes living there, though she is having more health problems lately, so it’s been a struggle for me to get her to her clinic appointments and keep up with the medical care she needs.

Her assets are now used up. She receives both Social Security and my deceased dad’s veteran’s benefits, but that’s not enough for her expenses. No one in the family is in a situation to help financially. I’m the only daughter living near her and am at my wit’s end. I can’t take her in my home, and I don’t know what to do about the assisted-living facility. – Rebecca

Dear Rebecca: The first thing I’d suggest is that you go to your state’s website and look for your long-term care ombudsman. If you type “aging” in the search box, you should find a link.

Alternately, you can go to the ombudsman site at www.ltcombudsman.org, and type in your ZIP code. This will get you to the same place. Your local ombudsman can help you investigate your state’s unique policies and see if there is any way your mother can continue to live in this particular assisted-living center, if it’s still meeting her needs, or if she will have to move.

Medicaid is the government program in place for people who have little or no assets. Qualifying for Medicaid is something most people put off as long as they can, knowing it involves a lot of paperwork and regulation. However, once an elder’s assets get close to being depleted, or if they had few assets to start with, there’s rarely another choice unless family members can take the elder into their homes.

Your ombudsman will be able to advise you as to how to proceed. Some people who are in their own homes can get services paid through Medicaid, but there are many variables, including your location. Most assisted-living facilities don’t accept Medicaid payment levels, and Medicaid doesn’t generally pay for non-medical care, but again, there are variables.

Since your mother’s health is declining, she may qualify for nursing home placement. If this is the case, and if she qualifies for Medicaid, then her nursing home costs will be paid for by that program. Nearly all of her income from Social Security and the veteran’s benefit will be used toward paying for her care, so money for clothing and other personal needs may have to come from family members.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.