The Alabama Department of Senior Services (ADSS) administers grants to local agencies to support a variety of programs aimed at serving Alabama’s senior population. The department also advocates for the rights of the elderly and investigates complaints of abuse and fraud directed toward the elderly. ADSS is funded by appropriations from the state’s General Fund, federal grants, and donations.
In 1965, the Older Americans Act was signed into law and was aimed at providing funding and rules regarding minimum levels of health care and support for senior citizens throughout the United States. The act provides federal grants to Alabama and other states to encourage the development and operation of cooperative programs to benefit the elderly among state and local agencies. Alabama began participating in the program through the Alabama Commission on Aging (ACA), which had been established in 1957 and was primarily a data-gathering and advisory group concentrating on all issues related to older citizens of the state. The ACA’s primary function related to the new law was to direct the federal funds to state Area Agencies on Aging (AAA).
In 1969, ACA’s activities expanded after the state established regional planning commissions to guide growth and planning throughout Alabama, including efforts to help the elderly. Today, nine AAAs are associated with these regional commissions, while four more operate as stand-alone offices, for a total of 13 AAAs. The 13 administrative groups under which the AAAs currently operate are: Northwest Council of Local Governments, North Central Alabama Regional Council of Local Governments, Top of Alabama Regional Council of Local Governments, West Alabama Regional Commission, Middle Alabama Area Agency on Aging, Office of Senior Citizen Services, East Alabama Region Planning and Development Commission, Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission, Central Alabama Aging Consortium, Lee-Russell Council of Governments, South Central Alabama Development Commission, Southern Alabama Regional Council on Aging, and South Alabama Regional Planning Commission.
The AAAs operate programs and services for the older population at the local level from the grant money from ADSS. Some AAAs also receive financial support from their local county and city officials. In 1985, the state authorized the ACA to appoint an ombudsman to investigate complaints related to health care and residential and in-home care. AAAs also have a long-term care ombudsman who serves at the local level to identify, investigate, and resolve complaints made by and on behalf of residents residing in long-term care facilities. During Fiscal Year 2010, the ADSS Ombudsman Program received 1,415 complaints.
In 2000, the ACA was renamed the Department of Senior Services. It is guided by a 15-member board, with appointments made by the president of the Alabama Senate (two members), the speaker of the Alabama House (two members), and the governor (eight members). The Commissioners of the Department of Labor and the Department of Human Resources as well as the State Health Officer serve as ex officio members. ADSS is headed by a commissioner appointed by the governor who serves as a member of the governor’s cabinet.
ADSS is organized into three divisions: Elder Rights, Long-term Care Services, and Other Aging Programs. The Elder Rights division focuses on preventing and investigating cases of elder abuse, advocates for the elderly in health insurance disputes, educates consumers on how to protect themselves from waste and fraud, and provides legal assistance services by operating programs such as the State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) and the Senior Medicare Patrol through the 13 AAAs. Long-Term Care Services works through the 13 AAAs to enroll eligible Alabamians into the Medicaid Elderly and Disabled Waiver, which uses local service providers to enable the elderly and those with disabilities that are at-risk for nursing home placement to remain in their own homes for as long as possible. In two of the AAA regions, there is an option called Personal Choices that allows the participant to direct their own personal care. The Other Aging Programs division administers a number of programs, including the most well-known program, the Senior Nutrition program, which provides food through more than 360 senior centers and home-delivered meal programs such as Meals on Wheels. In Fiscal Year 2010, ADSS served more than 5 million meals. Other programs include education and training services for caregivers, assistance in obtaining free prescription medicines, and education on exercise and healthy eating habits. The department administers grants to the 13 AAAs for a host of programs, including those that target mental and physical health, housing, education, and career counseling. To qualify for services, individuals must be at least 60 years old, in most cases; preference is given to those determined to be most in need.
The SenioRx Prescription Assistance Program is one of the only programs operated by ADSS that is strictly state funded. This program provides assistance for chronically ill Alabamians who are 55 and older and who do not have any prescription insurance coverage. Since its inception in 2002, the SenioRx program has saved seniors more than $215 million in prescription drug expenses.
ADSS hosts a virtual resource for consumers, AlabamaConnect.gov, which allows users to search for local service providers.
ADSS’s 2010 budget was slightly more than $110 million, with 95 percent of the budget being distributed to AAAs. Approximately 85 percent of the funds came from the U.S. Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Transportation. The bulk of expenditures went to the Medicaid Waiver for the Elderly and Disabled, which provides services to elderly and disabled clients to enable them to live outside of nursing facilities, followed by expenditures to Other Aging Programs, the Nutrition Program, and to the Senior Prescription Program. ADSS employs approximately 45 full-time individuals and serves the aging population in Alabama of more than 907,000 seniors.
The services and programs provided by ADSS will continue to become more important given the exponential growth in the senior population that will occur as the Baby Boomers reach 65. Beginning January 1, 2011, 10,000 Americans began turning 65 every day and will continue to do so for the next 20 years.