Inside The Senior Alliance: State Representative Laurie Pohutsky (Ep. 1.14)

In episode 14 of Inside the Senior Alliance, Jason Maciejewski talks with State Representative Laurie Pohutsky about what she and her colleagues in Lansing are doing to ensure protections, resources, and services are available to aging adults. Listen in as they discuss the new bills in our state and current issues in front of the committees that State Representative Pohutsky serves on, among other topics.

Transcription

Speaker 1: (00:00)
Welcome to episode 14 of Inside the Senior Alliance, a podcast exploring resources and issues in the field of aging. I’m Jason Maciejewski, CEO of the Senior Alliance, the area agency on aging, serving Western and Southern Wayne County. Today, I’m joined by State Representative, Laurie Pohutsky, who represents Lavonia in the State House of Representatives. State Representative Pohutsky, welcome to Inside the Senior Alliance.

Speaker 2: (00:22)
Thank you so much for having me, Jason. It’s really great to be here.

Speaker 1: (00:25)
We’re excited to have you, to talk about some issues in Lansing that deal with older adults, but before we get into some of those issues, I want to touch on COVID-19 and really get an understanding of what you’re seeing in the community in terms of COVID-19’s impact on older adults.

Speaker 2: (00:42)
Absolutely. I think the impact on older adults in terms of COVID has shifted a little bit. At the beginning of the pandemic, obviously, and this much has continued, we were very worried about them being particularly vulnerable to the illness, and that’s still very much the case, but obviously with the emergence of the vaccines and boosters, we’ve been able to, you know, mitigate some of that risk. Here in Livonia, we have a really large number of senior living and nursing homes, so it was a very important issue, and it was kind of at the top of our list early on in the pandemic. At this stage, I think we’ve learned a lot and obviously, we still want to keep our elder residents safe and healthy, but now we’re looking at mental health. You know, Livonia has been very in tune with the isolation that some of our elder adults have felt–isolation and not being able to connect. And kind of a corollary to that is I think a lot of us have taken for granted the role of technology and the ease with which some of us have utilized that throughout the pandemic. It’s been very helpful, but obviously, not everyone is comfortable with that technology. So, making sure that we are not taking that for granted and making assumptions about every community’s comfort with technology, and also trying to make sure that if we can help them become more comfortable that we make those resources available to our senior community.

Speaker 1: (02:02)
The use of technology has definitely become a bigger part of life for older adults in terms of accessing healthcare and just staying connected with people, so very interesting insights that you’ve had on COVID-19’s impact in the community. I want to shift to talking about some of your work in Lansing. The state budget was recently passed for fiscal year 2022, and for those of us at the Senior Alliance and who work at area agencies on aging, there was a big piece in there about 1,000 new slots for the MI Choice Waiver Program, and I want to thank you for your support of that inclusion in the state budget. It’s our largest program at the Senior Alliance, and it allows people who have a nursing home level of care need and meet the Medicaid financial eligibility requirements to remain living in their own home rather than being in a nursing facility. And we serve about two and a half people on the MI Choice Waiver Program for every person that receives services in a nursing home, so it’s really a win-win. People can stay in their own home and we can save the Medicaid system money through the MI Choice Waiver Program. And so, it was a great victory to get another thousand slots statewide for that, and we’d be curious to know your thoughts on community-based living and some of the supports that older adults receive in the community.

Speaker 2: (03:16)
You know, the MI Choice Waiver Program is such an important program, so I really appreciate your all’s advocacy for it and really explaining to legislators why it’s so crucial and the immense benefits, because like you said, really no matter how you look at it, whether you’re looking at it from a health outcome or a financial economic impact, it’s just a huge positive. So, I was really, really happy that we’re able to get those thousand new slots. You know, we’ve seen that folks who are able to stay in their own home and with their families have better health outcomes and, you know, fare better. We talked about mental health through COVID that has better health outcomes, you know, emotionally and mentally, as well as physically, when people are able to be cared for in their own home. That was true before COVID, and it’s certainly true now. So, I think that it’s really, really important that we continue advocating for that program and we continue making sure that people who are able to be cared for in their own home are able to do that. Years and years ago, Jason, I believe I’ve talked to you about this briefly, we took care of my grandma in our home and, you know, as long as we were able to do that, it was just so much better for her, for us, financially, physically–it was just a far preferable situation. So, I’m really, really glad that we’re making it easier for people to be able to do that here.

Speaker 1: (04:31)
Yeah, I remember you sharing that story with me and it seems many, many times as you encounter people on the aging network and you begin to encounter people in elective office, everybody’s got some kind of connection to being a caregiver, whether it’s a family member or a friend, you begin to explore those things and see the value of caregiving and potential supports like the MI Choice Waiver Program. So again, thank you for your support of that. There are two policy committees in the State House that you’re a member of and that we as an area agency on aging do advocacy work on the bills that come before those two committees, and those being family, children, and seniors, and the second committee being health policy. We’re really fortunate to have you in our service area because you serve on both of those committees. And so, if you could please give us an update on what the committees been working on and what’s been your experience serving on those two committees.

Speaker 2: (05:25)
It’s really fascinating to serve on both of them because, as you know better than most, there is a lot of overlap, particularly again, not to keep bringing everything back to COVID, but that is the biggest issue of our time right now. And so, there’s particularly a lot of overlap as it relates to the pandemic, dealing with nursing home issues and making sure that resources that were available pre-pandemic for folks who are either in long-term care facilities, or work in one, or have loved ones in one are still available, you know, throughout the pandemic, even in the height of it, because those are truly important resources, and we don’t want those to lapse at all. So, there’s been a lot of overlap, particularly as it relates to the senior community and just making sure that through the pandemic and also afterward. You know, I think we’ve learned a lot through the pandemic about what we can be doing better, and that’s particularly true in our long-term care facilities, our nursing home facilities, and the resources that we make available to our senior populations. So, that’s where there’s been the most overlap. And it’s been a really gratifying and exciting time to be part of those committees and to be able to serve on them.

Speaker 1: (06:31)
Yes, there, there’s definitely overlap that we see there, and we’ve been fortunate that there’s been a little bit more activity in those two committees in the current term and in the prior term when you’ve been serving. And there has been in prior years, there’s been a little bit more emphasis on some of the older adult issues in our state, so we’re very appreciative of the attention that those two committees are giving to our issues. I want to move into a couple of different bills that move through either one of those committees earlier in the year. The first one being house bill 43-25, which was actually signed into law as Public Act 28 of 2021. And this law, for terms of background for folks, requires area agencies on aging to conduct criminal background checks on our staff and volunteers. And at the Senior Alliance, we’d already been doing this. We’ve been doing that background check work, but we were happy to work with the bill sponsor when the bill was moving its way through the legislative process to provide our insight about functionality and how it could be implemented, and we definitely appreciate your support in getting those bills through. But, if you could talk about your experience with house bill 43-25 and what that was like getting something through for older adults and signed in the law.

Speaker 2: (07:40)
I’m very grateful for the support that the area agencies on aging had in regards to that bill. Like you said, it was really just codifying a policy that you all already had in place. There’s no harm in doing that. And, you know, I suppose that it further solidifies, you know, the public’s understanding of the policy and things like that. But, for me, it really highlighted the commitment that the agencies already have to making sure that the people they are serving have faith and can feel secure and that they want people to not have to be concerned with anything in terms of the staff or volunteers or anything like that. So, I was really, really grateful to see it signed into law. But really, my biggest takeaway from that was I already was grateful for the fact that the agencies work so hard to make sure that there’s already public trust established and that no one has to worry about anyone who, you know, is coming into their home or is, you know, taking care of their loved one or providing resources to them. There’s no need to be concerned about that. So, you know, it was kind of a belt and suspenders type thing. It was just codifying something that was already done, but I was grateful that that was already a policy that was in place.

Speaker 1: (08:51)
Yeah. So I want to move to a second set of bills dealing with elder abuse, and these would be house bills 47-72 to 44-79. They are moving through the legislative process at this point, and we want to thank you for your support of them as they move through Family, Children’s, and Seniors Committee in the House, but could you maybe update us on where the bills are at and what they’re involved with?

Speaker 2: (09:14)
Yeah, of course. So, those bills are very, very important. Elder abuse is something that we have been working to combat and make sure that there are protections in place for our senior populations. Throughout my first term, and obviously, now again, they’ve come before the Family, Children, and Seniors Committee. I know that they also have to, at least some of them, have to make their way through judiciary as well because they or criminal penalties attached to that. But, I was very grateful for the fact that they also tackled financial abuse because I don’t feel like that’s something that is necessarily discussed enough, but it is absolutely a major problem when it comes to the vulnerabilities that our senior population has. So, making sure that there are protections for our seniors from financial abuse was a huge part of that bill package. And I’m really, really grateful that it is making its way through. I have every faith that it’s going to actually be signed into law because it’s just a truly important issue. And I’m glad that we’re dealing with it.

Speaker 1: (10:12)
Yes. It’s been a bit of a long haul for some of the components of the package, but we’re really excited to have some of those financial elder abuse issues being addressed. People primarily think of the physical side of elder abuse, but the financial side is really far more prevalent than people realize. And we’re really excited that you and some of your colleagues are working to have those financial pieces in that package, so we really appreciate your support for that as it moves through the process.

Speaker 2: (10:38)
Absolutely.

Speaker 1: (10:39)
So, is there anything else you’d like to add to our conversation today about your work in Lansing or older adult issues in general?

Speaker 2: (10:45)
So much of our work as elected officials, it’s actually constituent services, and it’s one of my favorite parts actually. So, if there is ever an issue or a resource that anyone needs, I want them to know that they can absolutely reach out to our office. My email address is Laurie Pohutsky – L-A-U-R-I-E-P-O-H-U-T-S-K-Y – @house.mi.gov. Or I can be reached by phone at (517) 373-3920. So, if there is ever a question, I just want everyone to know that they can reach out. Even if our office isn’t going to ultimately solve the issue, we can at least get to work on figuring out who is and connecting people with the resources they need. I want everyone to know that we are always a resource for them if they have a question or an issue.

Speaker 1: (11:31)
Thank you for sharing your contact information. That’s gonna be useful for folks who have questions about what’s going on in Lansing and issues that are important to them. So, State Representative Laurie Pohutsky, thanks for joining us today on the podcast.

Speaker 2: (11:42)
Thank you for having me.

Speaker 1: (11:43)
If anyone has questions about services or programs the Senior Alliance offers, you can call us at 1-800-815-1112, or email us at info@thesenioralliance.org. Information about our agency, the programs, and the services we offer can be found on our website at www.thesenioralliance.org. On Facebook, we can be located by searching for the Senior Alliance. And finally, our Twitter handle is @aaa1c. I’m Jason Maciejewski. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside the Senior Alliance.

Speaker 3: (12:15)
Inside the Senior Alliance is a production of the Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media.

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