Martha Farrell, 80, sits in a tidy apartment in Opelika as sunlight streams in through her glass door.

She looks down at her freshly vacuumed carpet and gestures toward a spotless kitchen. “Pushing my vacuum cleaner, ugh, it would just kill me,” she said. “It was tough there for a while.”

Farrell lived alone in the apartment for more than a year before enrolling in Alabama’s Medicaid Elderly and Disabled Waiver Program. Now, three times a week, Mashaun Palmore of East Alabama Services for the Elderly stops by to run errands, do housework and cook meals.

“She cooks like I do; she seasons like I do. When she goes to the store, she picks out the same things I would,” Farrell said of Palmore. “It’s just like an extension of me. She has the sweetest personality.”

Administered through the Lee-Russell Council of Governments’ Area Agency on Aging, the Medicaid Elderly and Disabled Waiver Program provides services to seniors and people with disabilities whose needs qualify them for placement in a longterm care facility, like a nursing home. The state also offers a similar HIV/ AIDS Medicaid Waiver Program. Case management, personal care, homemaker and companion services, caregiver respite care and nutrition and meals are available through the programs. However, they do not provide for medication administration.

“It’s for people who are at risk for nursing homes to stay home. … Some of them need just that little bit of extra help, and they could have stayed home just a little longer,” explained Lisa Barnes, lead Medicaid Waiver case manager with Lee-Russell Council of Governments. “… It’s helping the quality of life. They’re happier. … If we can delay (moving to a nursing home) any amount of time, they’re happy about it.”

In the Lee-Russell area, 196 people are participating the in Medicaid waiver programs, which can accommodate a total of 251 people. To qualify, applicants must meet a number of medical and financial criteria. A social worker assesses applicants’ daily living in the home, and a nurse with the Department of Senior Services in Montgomery reviews the information. Medicaid reviews applicants’ financial documents.

“It’s a great program, especially if they’re on (Supplemental Security Income)/Medicaid,” Barnes said, adding the process can take between one and two months if the applicant is already enrolled in SSI/Medicaid. For those who are not, the waiting period is three to six months. Barnes added the Area Agency on Aging is working with hospitals, hospice services and caregivers to educate community members about the waiver program.

“There are so many people that need this program that don’t know about it. … It would sure help a lot of people if they knew about it,” Farrell said. “… It’s just been a godsend to me.”

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