Despite Changes, Challenges Remain for Department on Aging

With John McCalley’s resignation from leading the Iowa Department of Aging, a contentious month for the agency serving Iowa’s seniors has come to an end. But many of the issues central to the current dispute remain on the front burner. Meeting these challenges will be a challenge to the interim director, former representative Ro Foege.

Autonomy of the Elder Affairs Commission – The flashpoint to the controversy was a citizen board actually exercising its authority and thinking independently. The resistance to the Elder Affairs Commission’s efforts to do its job was certainly not a position taken without input from the Governor’s office. This is clear from the Commissioners’ own comments, who tried to get support from the Governor but instead ran into a stone wall.

Will this position change with a new director? If there is a person in the current administration who can bring diverse groups together, it is former representative Ro Foege. But he serves at the pleasure of Governor Culver. And it is pretty clear from what transpired between the Commission and McCalley that the governor’s office wanted no part of an independent thinking board. Will they change their tune?

Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s Office – Central to much of the dispute was the long-term care ombudsman’s office. This federally-mandated organization is supposed to serve as an independent voice advocating for the needs of seniors in facility-based settings.

In previous years, the ombudsman had played an active role in legislative discussions on bill of interest. But since Chet Culver became governor, there has been little involvement from the ombudsman. After the recent revelations in the Des Moines Register, we now know why that happened.

Fiscal Year 2011 will the final year of the Senior Living Trust Fund…

The Governor’s decision to move the ombudsman’s office out of the Department on Aging was hailed by some as a wise, prudent step to ensure its autonomy. But Culver moved it to an agency under which he has even greater control – the Department of Administrative Services. Will the ombudsman have total autonomy, which federal law requires. Or will Culver and his staff continue to impose controls on what the Ombudsman says?

Death of the Senior Living Fund – Fiscal Year 2011 will the final year of the Senior Living Trust Fund, as Governor Culver and the Democrat majority in the Legislature decided to empty out the account in order to balance the budget. This means that two-thirds of the state funding for the Department will not be available in 2012. How does the Department handle this impending shortfall will be a major issue this fall.