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JFC amends state budget to expand dementia specialist program

06/12/2017 9:20 AM | Jamie Michael (Administrator)
June 5, Wisconsin Health News

The Legislature's budget-writing committee has amended the state's next budget to expand the number of dementia care specialists in the state, rejecting the state's plans to end the program.

The Dementia Care Specialist Program embeds specialists that support those with dementia and their families as well as help foster dementia friendly communities in Aging and Disability Resource Centers. 

The program is set to end this year, and Gov. Scott Walker's 2017-19 state budget didn't include funding to continue it. Department of Health Services Secretary Linda Seemeyer said in March that the department wouldn't oppose continuing the program.  

The Joint Finance Committee approved a motion last month that amends the budget to provide $3.1 million over the next biennium to support the current 19 dementia specialist positions. The amendment would add an additional four positions that would start July 1, 2018.

Most of that funding, which is ongoing rather than one-time, comes through general purpose revenue, with some coming from the federal government.

"The number of Wisconsinites living with Alzheimer's and dementia continues to grow and we must ensure that these individuals and their families have adequate support," JFC member Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, R-Neenah, said in a statement. Rohrkaste led the Speaker's Task Force on Alzheimer's and Dementia last legislative session.

The retention of the program was a priority for the Alzheimer's Association, Southeastern Wisconsin Chapter. Tom Hlavacek, executive director, said the specialists are playing a greater role in identifying people with dementia and connecting caregivers with resources. They often work with the association, he added. 

While they requested expanding the program statewide, the addition of new staff "is a step in the right direction," he said. 

"We felt that the victory was important not just for these positions, not just for expanding the program, but because it acknowledges the fact that we have an epidemic on our hands in the state of Wisconsin and across the country," he said.  

Rob Gundermann, public policy director at Alzheimer's & Dementia Alliance of Wisconsin, said they were a "little disappointed" with the committee's decision. 

"If they're going to spend that kind of money we would have rather have seen that go into respite," he said. "We administer it for Dane County here and we're already out of money this year. There's just such a need for that and it keeps people in their homes."

Gundermann said it's "ridiculous" that the state will be spending more money on the specialists than on respite care. "We need to incentivize home care over institutionalization," he said. "That's the way you save money with this population and you do that by providing respite."

The committee also approved $100,000 over the next two years to support the Wisconsin Alzheimer's Disease Research Center, which was requested by Gov. Scott Walker. The proposal mirrors a bill that was introduced last year by the Speaker's Task Force but didn't make it into law. 

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