Colorado legislators have been focused on supporting seniors and nursing facilities this session through a series of bills that have either passed or are working their way through the General Assembly.
Governor Jared Polis signed the Modernization of The Older Coloradans Act last month which restructured, codified, re-imagined a holistic, statewide approach to servicing the needs of older adults.
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AARP Colorado says of the more than 80 bills it has been tracking this legislative session, none are more significant than the latest update to the Older Coloradans Act. The purpose of the act is to support older Coloradans through community planning, social services, health and well-being services, and strategies to prepare the state’s infrastructure for an increasing older population of Coloradans.
Colorado spends around $2 billion annually—including state and federal funds—on a wide range of programs across seven departments to address aging issues and provide services to the second fastest aging population in the nation. These aging services are provided through Medicaid, regional Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), financial assistance through the old age pension, property tax relief, and protections against fraud, exploitation, and mistreatment.
Aging advocates note that legislative efforts are re-shaping the way state and local government, the non-profit and private sectors, foundations, and regional organizations think about and ultimately serve older Coloradans over the coming years.
“We have been involved with and supportive of investments in affordable housing, transportation, broadband infrastructure, local governments, and the kind of long-term services and supports that help keep people in their homes and communities as long as possible,” said Bob Murphy, State Director of AARP Colorado in a statement to State of Reform. “We are particularly focused on the kind of state or federal funding that directly impacts local or regional efforts to achieve these goals. One example, Colorado has a regional system of 16 AAA’s which provide critical services including transportation and meals, on the ground, all over the state.”
Senate Bill 185 would extend grant programs to continue investing in projects that promote the health, equity, well-being, and security of older Coloradans across the state. SB 185 is part of a suite of bills aimed at carrying out the goals of the Strategic Action Plan on Aging, which was initiated in 2016 and provides an outline for planning and serving the needs of older Coloradans, now and well into the future.
Also under consideration, House Bill 1247 and Senate Bill 111 would expand support to nursing facilities through supplemental payments and grants, respectively. HB 1247 proposes $27 million in incentive payments to state nursing facilities, funds that would be appropriated to the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing (HCPF) to issue additional supplemental payments for nursing facility providers. SB 111 would award grants to nursing facilities from a fund set up by the Departments of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and HCPF to address infectious disease prevention and control.
House Bill 1333 would raise the minimum wage for nursing home workers to $15 an hour, just one of the many workforce related bills being considered that address the shortage of emergency medical workers.
Issues with the state’s COVID-19 testing firm, staffing shortages, and lack of infection control protocols at some facilities led to the highest nursing home death rate in the country during the 2020 winter surge. There have been some 28,000 COVID-19 infections and more than 1,900 deaths among Colorado nursing home residents and staff reported since April 2020.
An estimated 2,000 workers have left the nursing home industry during that same period, causing a staff shortage which has forced providers to stop accepting new residents due to the inability to properly manage the elders already under their care.
The Lifelong Colorado initiative is a collection of state, regional, and local strategies that support aging in the community. It is a vehicle for moving efforts to assist older adults forward in Colorado. Through the initiative, the Strategic Action Planning Group on Aging and the Colorado Commission on Aging work with local state and community groups on effective and sustainable solutions. Murphy, who sits on the steering committee of Lifelong Colorado, says the goal is to create “livable communities” that offer age-friendly infrastructure and services, planned with a bottom-up approach to be accessible, inclusive, safe, and socially connected.
“We also have a strong network of Livable or Age-Friendly Communities where local stakeholders and policymakers together plan their communities’ futures through an age-friendly lens. This effort is supported by AARP Colorado, the Department of Local Affairs, the five MPO’s, the sixteen AAA’s and, in the form of Lifelong Colorado, the Executive Branch as well,” he said.