Maryland policymakers, state agencies, and other health care executives are poised to take an all-encompassing approach to care for Marylanders with Alzheimer’s and other dementia, a leading expert in the field says. Even as the health care system continues to work through the stress of the COVID pandemic, new, historical state funding can create opportunities to address areas of critical need for the Alzheimer’s system of care.
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Approximately 110,000 Marylanders aged 65 or older had dementia in 2020, a number that is projected to reach 130,000 by 2025. For Eric Colchamiro, Public Policy Director at the Alzheimer’s Association, Maryland Chapter, the focus remains on increasing access to care for both people with dementia and their caregivers, as well as improving the quality of care they receive.
“This pandemic disproportionately impacted Marylanders living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” Colchamiro said. “So as we move forward, we need to address issues that have [always] been there but this pandemic exacerbated, like social isolation. Maryland can do so much more to engage residents [with dementia] in the long term.”
Colchamiro says an active relationship with engaged legislators and other state agencies helped pass critical legislation this past session to improve the system of care for people with dementia.
For the first time ever, the state legislature appropriated $3.5 million in state reserve funds specifically for Alzheimer’s and other dementia-related research and services through the FY 2023 operating budget.
“We’re thrilled and we’re excited to partner with the [Department of Health] as far as implementing it and setting the stage for how we can continue to work on this and invest in helping people with Alzheimer’s in the future,” Colchamiro said.
Other significant legislation recently passed includes the Dementia Services Act of 2022, which establishes a full-time Director of Dementia Services Coordination at the Maryland Department of Health, and HB 1034/SB 270, which as of October 2022 established a licensing and regulatory system for assisted living managers under the State Board of Long-Term Care Administrators.
Colchamiro added that addressing the ongoing workforce shortage, and the ways it specifically affects care for people with dementia, continues to be a priority for the association.
“Our data shows that we need 97% more geriatricians who help people in long-term care facilities. But it’s not just geriatricians,” he said. “It’s elevating the wages, and in turn the Medicaid reimbursement for the CNAs and the direct care workforce in nursing homes and assisted living facilities.”
The long-term goal, according to Colchamiro, is to continue spreading public awareness and establishing a care infrastructure for Alzheimer’s that’s on par with diabetes or other chronic disease research and funding.
“Thanks to that support, not just through legislation, but for the budget, we’re elevating this issue and building awareness about it within the General Assembly, so that it’s not just something we talk about quietly. We’re breaking the stigma so people feel comfortable talking about it publicly.”