Salas Bills to Improve Health Care for Older Adults Clear First Hurdle
Bills would address mental health needs & improve transportation access to health care
SACRAMENTO – Assembly Bills (AB) 480 and 970, authored by Assemblymember Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield), passed unanimously out of the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care on Tuesday. AB 480 would establish an Older Adult Mental Health Services Administrator to integrate, improve and increase mental health services for older adults. AB 970 would establish a grant program to provide transportation to and from health care appointments for older individuals and persons living with a disability who reside in rural areas.
“California has a rapidly aging population with serious health needs that we must take proactive steps to address,” said Assemblymember Salas. “Older adults face significant challenges in receiving mental health care and are at great risk for suicide. In addition, accessible transportation presents a significant barrier to health care for seniors and people living with disabilities. This pair of bills will help ensure that these critical health needs for older adults are met.”
In California, the older adult population will increase 64 percent by 2035 to 12 million adults age 60 and above. By that same time, the U.S. Census Bureau projects senior citizens will outnumber youth for the first time in our nation’s history. According to the California Department of Finance, the population over age 60 will have an overall increase of 166 percent during the period from 2010 to 2060. The projected increase in Kern County is 192 percent and 120 percent in Kings County.
One in five older adults experience mental health concerns and less than one-third of all older adults in the United States who need mental health care receive it. Mental health issues are often implicated as a factor in cases of suicide and, unfortunately, older adults also have among the highest suicide rates of any age group in the country. Furthermore, the percentage increase in suicides from 1996 to 2016 in California has risen dramatically, notably among older adults. From 1991 to 2017, California saw a 58 percent increase in the number of suicides for those aged 65-84 and 50 percent for those 85 and older (compared with a 14.8 average increase statewide across all age groups). Suicide rates are particularly high in rural parts of California where access to mental health care is severely lacking.
“Many people believe that older adults are simply ‘adults who are old’ and they do not recognize the complex medical issues that also need to be taken into consideration in mental health planning, programs and service delivery," said Shirley Krohn of the California Senior Legislature.
Beginning in 2007, there was a position within the California Department of Aging – the Geriatric Mental Health Specialist – that was funded by Mental Health Services Act funds who was responsible for overseeing mental health services for older adults. However, this position no longer exists after state budget cuts in 2011 eliminated funding for the geriatric mental health specialist. AB 480 would re-establish an Older Adult Mental Health Services Administrator position to focus on service integration, standardizing needs, and prioritizing geriatrics training for mental health professionals.
In addition, California has large populations of seniors and people with disabilities who suffer from chronic, serious illnesses that limit their mobility and who live in areas where there is limited access to health care. Resources for non-emergency medical transportation are limited, and, where they are available, the vehicles used in those communities use fuels that contribute to air pollution. Studies conducted by the American Hospital Associations have shown that transportation barriers are the third leading cause of missing a medical appointment for seniors across the country.
“Statewide, non-emergency health care transport services are primarily available near urban and suburban areas,” said Anne Warren of the California Senior Legislature. “Getting old is inevitable. Being old and poor is a challenge. Being sick is a greater challenge. Being old, sick and living in remote or isolated areas can be a burden. But having transportation for accessing your medical needs lessens these challenges.”
AB 970 would create a grant program administered by the Department of Aging to provide clean transportation to non-emergency medical appointments with zero emission or near-zero emission vehicles for seniors and people living with disabilities who reside in rural areas. This bill would help increase access to care for vulnerable populations while also improving local air quality and reducing overall emissions, providing significant health benefits.
Assemblymember Salas has been working closely on these bills with senior advocacy groups like the California Senior Legislature and LeadingAge California. AB 480 next will be heard in the Assembly Committee on Health and AB 970 moves to the Assembly Committee on Transportation.
Assemblymember Salas represents part of the City of Bakersfield, the cities of Arvin, Hanford, Corcoran, Delano, Lemoore, McFarland, Shafter, Wasco, and the communities of Armona, Avenal, Buttonwillow, Home Garden, Kettleman City, Lamont, Lost Hills, Stratford and Weedpatch