An effort to dramatically reform the way the state handles senior care cleared its first hurdle on Wednesday with unanimous approval from the Senate Health Committee.
It has been a long time coming for SB 547. The two-year bill by Assembly member Carol Liu (D-La Cañada/Flintridge) failed to get by the health committee last year for being “too far-reaching,” Liu said at Wednesday’s hearing.
“It’s still not a simple bill,” Liu said with a wry smile. “But it has been substantially amended and reduced in scope.”
The bill originally planned to set up a Department of Community Living and an Assistant Secretary of Aging and Long-Term Care Coordination within the state’s Health and Human Services agency.
The new department idea has been replaced with a coordinating council and the bill makes integration of long-term care and aging issues the responsibility of the state’s HHS Secretary.
It also would create a statewide long-term care plan with benchmarks and timelines for implementation of that plan to be updated every five years. It would expand the consumer information web portal, as well.
“I’ll be quite honest, it doesn’t go as far we want,” said Derrell Kelch, executive director of the California Association of Area Agencies on Aging. “But this is a significant step towards bringing attention to the issue and setting up a process whereby we can look for answers.”
The bill is based on the 2015 report recommendations of the Senate Select Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care.
“We have 112 programs administered by 20 different agencies, offices and departments,” Liu said at Wednesday’s hearing. “The system is really unnavigable.”
And it will get worse soon, she said, as an estimated 20% of California’s population will be 65 or older by 2030. Despite the impending demographic crisis, she said, the collective yawn from the state has hamstrung efforts so far.
“Clearly aging and long-term care is not a state priority. The Select Committee’s 2015 report identified two things that have left the aging and long-term care system disheveled,” she said. “No leadership and no accountability.”
By making the HHS Secretary responsible for incorporating aging issues across the state’s health care agencies, that fragmentation will be better addressed, Liu said.
The bill passed committee on a 6-0 vote. It now moves to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.