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The Importance of Meals on Wheels Programs

Virtually everyone understands the need to be prudent when it comes to public budgets. No matter what our political preferences, there is simply no way of getting around the fact that, eventually, the money that a government collects much be sufficient to pay for its spending. Of course the real disagreement–at both a state and federal level–is figuring out the details of reaching balance. Determining the specific amount of revenues to take in and the payment to make involve balancing many competing interests. There are few easy choices.

While it is difficult to talk about any single program without consideration of the whole, there are some principles that can be followed when making budget decisions. For one thing, it is critical to look at the possible increased expenses that come as an ancillary function of cutting a program. Sometimes cutting in one area will result in problems that actually cost more down the road. Prudent fiscal planning requires consideration of these details when working out the best balanced budget proposals.

Meal on Wheels Programs
For example, when money is tight some of the first options on the chopping block are so-called “extra” programs–project that are worthwhile but not deemed essential. Many might place “Meals on Wheels” programs for seniors in that category. While few would suggest the program is without merit, some might place a lower priority on it during tough budget years.

However, that mindset is a mistake. That is because these senior care programs actually serve an incredibly useful preventative function that leads to lower overall healthcare costs. In fact a new study was just released on that front. As reported in a Health Day story, the research into the tangential benefits of Meals on Wheels programs finds that they allow seniors to stay in their own homes longer and lower overall healthcare costs for those seniors (and the public as a whole).

Less Need for Nursing Home Services
These programs are often the difference between a senior living at home and being forced to move into a nursing home. As the lead researcher in this latest project published in Health Services Research explained, “States that have invested in their community-based service networks, particularly home-delivered meals, have proportionally fewer of these people than do those states that have not.”

Essentially, the researchers found that those states which took advantage of options under the federal Older Americans Act to expand meals on wheels programs benefitted from a statistically significant reduction in “low-service” long-term care residents. This refers to residents who do not require the most comprehensive skilled care available at the home. This makes intuitive sense, as there is a spectrum of needs among the senior community. Many do not have significant cognitive challenges that make living at home unsafe (i.e. are a lower senior citizen fall risk). Instead they may only be unable to perform a few simple (but crucial) functions, like going to the grocery store and fixing meals. When these residents have alternative programs to provide that support, they are able to remain in their own homes much longer than otherwise.

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