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Good news, but not great news

Editorial

Volunteers are welcome, but the long-term care system needs more

It's good news that the state has two new Jackson County volunteers to help it deal with complaints about long-term care homes and centers. But it's not the now-we-can-all-relax kind of news.

No, the pressure cooker rumbles on at the state Office of Long-Term Care, which is charged with handling an ever-growing caseload of inquiries about care in Oregon's assisted living facilities, nursing homes, residential care homes and adult foster care homes.

Such places can provide caring, comforting homes for the elderly. Or they can be dirty, frightening, even unsafe. We remember the problems that make headlines ' a fire in a Medford foster care home kills four residents, a South Stage Road caregiver steals &

36;100,000 from an elderly man ' but there are many others that go unnoticed by the public.

The state office answered 4,429 requests for help in 2003, up 50 percent in just five years.

Here's the scary part: Making sure the homes remain safe is almost entirely up to volunteers ' 10 in Jackson County and about 160 others across the state. Aside from the volunteers, the state Long-Term Care office has just four people who answer public inquiries.

State inspections of homes, carried out by a different division, happen just once a year. The Long-Term Care office's interactions are more frequent, but it is inconsistent. Some centers are visited as often as weekly; others have no one assigned to oversee them. In 2003, according to the office's annual report, just 54 percent of nursing facilities and 8 percent of foster care homes got a visit at least quarterly.

— The state can take only so much blame for the patched-together approach. Oregon has more care centers and foster care homes than ever. Inspections cost money. Even training and supervising volunteers cost money. Like so much in Oregon right now, the need far exceeds the budget.

Meanwhile, the state office celebrates the addition of every new volunteer as it ekes its way toward a system that guarantees seniors in long-term care a healthy, safe existence.

It's not enough. But until the state budget recovers to something like normal levels, it's what we've got.