COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell warned lawmakers Wednesday that a failure to prepare for South Carolina's oncoming "gray tsunami" will cause a budget crisis and human tragedies.
McConnell told a joint session of the Legislature the state's senior population is expected to double over the next 15 years, to nearly 2 million people ages 60 and older. He urged legislators to develop a long-term plan that focuses on programs that help seniors live independently in their own homes. Beyond improving lives, that approach would save the state billions of dollars, he said.
Such programs, which include home-delivered meals and transportation to doctor appointments, cost taxpayers $1,400 per person yearly, compared to $52,000 for nursing home care paid by Medicaid, McConnell said.
"It defies logic and common sense to do nothing to prevent people from slipping into an expensive Medicaid system, when less expensive preventative health care, nutrition, and other services will keep many people independent and able to support themselves," he said.
As lieutenant governor, McConnell oversees the state Office on Aging and considers himself seniors' chief advocate. His address represented the first State on the Aging Population speech. It will also be his last.
The College of Charleston's board of trustees chose McConnell on Saturday as the next president of his alma mater. That job is expected to start July 1.
McConnell said he was stunned by the enormity of the aging challenges after he became lieutenant governor two years ago. While he stepped into the position reluctantly after 32 years in the Senate - following the resignation and guilty plea of Ken Ard to ethics violations - he said the experience has transformed and inspired him.
The former Senate president pro tem has used his influence to try to draw attention to the plight seniors and secure more money in the Legislature.
Before McConnell became lieutenant governor, the state provided $1.6 million to the Office on Aging for home-based services. That's increased to $6.5 million this fiscal year. He's requesting an additional $4.7 million for the year beginning July 1 - $1.7 million of which would offset federal budget cuts.
The additional money should serve an additional 3,000 people, leaving 5,000 on waiting lists. McConnell said he didn't want to request more than the agency's provider network can handle.
McConnell is also seeking $3 million in recurring money for programs that provide relief to caregivers of elderly or disabled family members, which is currently funded with one-time money. Giving caregivers a break keeps people out of institutions and families together, McConnell said.
"For an unpaid caregiver, a little break from the 24/7 responsibilities can sometimes mean the difference between life or death for the one who provides the care," he said. "The consequences of failing to fund respite services will only cause our family caregivers to burn out in addition to the waiting lists for other services to grow."
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.