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Seniors need more aid at home, survey says
Fifty percent of Kent County seniors in need of help say their needs are not being met.

By Ted Roelofs, 10/19/2004, The Grand Rapids Press

A survey of 500 Kent County senior citizens found plenty of good news. Seniors are engaged in their community, satisfied with their neighborhoods and feel safe at home.

But it also found too many people like Floyd Martz, 87, a Wyoming resident with chronic lung disease who needs help with everything from bathing to cooking to getting to the store.

Martz wants desperately to remain in his home, but so far has not found the outside help he needs to do so. For now, that falls entirely to his daughter, Cheryl Martz, 49, who is juggling a full- time job with caring for her father.

"It's been hard. It's been a challenge," Cheryl Martz said. "I've been trying to get help in the home but nothing comes easy."

For now, Martz is on a Medicaid waiting list for the home care he needs, a fate he shares with 30 other residents in a nine-county West Michigan area.

According to a survey released today, 23 percent of county seniors have difficulty performing daily living activities such as personal care, housework and financial matters. Of those, 50 percent said their needs are not being met.

Susan Buckles, spokeswoman for the Area Agency on Aging of Western Michigan, said that remains one of the primary challenges to area seniors.

"Some of those people we know we definitely are not able to serve," she said. "As the state dollars have tightened up, that has gotten more difficult to do."

At one time, the agency served slightly more than 800 people in a nine-county region with its Medicaid-funded home care program. Because of state budget cuts, it now serves 443 people, Buckles said.

Buckles noted that the Kent County senior millage passed in 1998 has gone a long way to meeting local needs. In 2003, it served more than 10,000 persons on a budget of $4.3 million.

"Even with that, there are still more needs than we can meet," she said.But Buckles noted the survey found several reasons for optimism about the place of seniors in our community:

"Survey results create a picture that shows older adults in Kent County are overwhelmingly vibrant, contented and active contributors to their families, neighbors and communities," said Diana Sieger, president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation.

The foundation teamed with the Area Agency on Aging to conduct the survey.

If indeed there is reason for optimism among this population, it is embodied by folks such as Maggie Fegel, a 90-year-old Belmont resident.

Fegel volunteers five days a week, at everything from God's Kitchen to the Council on Aging of Kent County to Heart of West Michigan United Way to area nursing homes, where she brings her dog, a Maltese-Pekingese mix, to area nursing homes to cheer residents.

Fegel said she is not about to slow down.

"I love people," she said. "I think we need more laughter in this world. You get more out of life than you put into it."

Grand Rapids Press Oct 19, 2004