Program allows seniors to receive help while staying in their homes

LAKE COUNTY — Many senior citizens require help in their day-to-day lives, but are reluctant to move into an assisted living facility. Yet there is an often overlooked program in Michigan which can help provide the assistance they need without requiring them to give up their homes.

It is called the MI Choice program and allows for Medicaid waivers to be available for seniors living in their own homes in the same way they can receive financial aid if they live in assisted living facilities. The funding for the program comes out of Michigan's Medicaid budget with a total of $325 million annually. Although it has been available since 1998, many residents who could take advantage of the program in Michigan are still unaware of it.

It is run by the Department of Health and Human Services which contracts with local service providers to run the program in individual communities. In Lake County, it is the Area Agency on Aging.

"MI Choice is a wonderful program to help older adults stay in their homes," explained Tom Czerwinski, the executive director of the West Michigan Area Agency on Aging. "More than 90 percent of older adults polled said they would prefer to stay in their homes and it's more cost effective and less hard on taxpayers to help those who need assistance live in a private residence than at a facility."

According to Czerwinski, a MI Choice waiver to support an individual living at a private residence costs less than 40 percent than the Medicaid costs of supporting them living at a nursing home.

The program is built around what its members call person centered planning. This means clients, rather than a staff member, determine what type of service should be provided.

"The goal is to allow someone to stay in the least restrictive setting as possible," said Czerwinski. "The clients make the decisions which affect their lives."

Those who apply to the MI Choice program begin by meeting with a care management team consisting of a registered nurse and a social worker. Together with the client and the client's family and friends, they work to determine what the needs of the client would be — whether they only require sporadic help, more involved help or assistance with individual tasks like house work or moving up and down stairs.

"We have 40 registered nurses and social workers on staff for the Lake County Area Agency on Aging," said Czerwinski. "They, like most nurses and social workers who contribute to the MI Choice program, live in the area they administer so they are part of the same community as their clients."

The MI Choice program is administered by the Medical Services Administration, which is part of DHHS. They assure there is oversight of the program through yearly financial audits, monitoring records and meetings with both staff and clients.

To qualify for the program, those applying must be age 65 or older or be medically eligible for nursing home placement. They must also be below certain income requirements. More information can be found by calling (888) 456-5664).