Life improved dramatically for Clara Gillespie when she moved from a skilled-nursing home to a retirement community in the East Valley.
The 77-year-old widow has her own living quarters, but hands over most of life’s drudgery — cooking, laundry, housekeeping — to the center’s staff.
She couldn’t afford this on her own, but Desert Palms Retirement Community in Mesa operates under a state Medicaid program, Arizona Long Term Care System.
Yet with stories of Valley nursing homes cutting back or closing down, Gillespie worries Desert Palms could be next.
"When or if is it going to affect us?" Gillespie asked.
Gov. Janet Napolitano and fellow Democratic governors will meet this weekend in Phoenix, searching for answers to such concerns.
Topics will include Medicare and Medicaid reform, spiraling medical costs and the impact of aging baby boomers.
The conference will be at the Biltmore Resort and Spa. Napolitano said having the conference in Arizona is important because it will call attention early to an issue she expects to be a top priority for voters in the presidential election.
"I think health care and Medicare (reform) and what we’re going to do about access to affordable medical insurance is a growing issue," Napolitano said.
The Arizona Long Term Care System is considered a role model for states seeking to get a better handle on their Medicaid spending. Technically, it is not a medical program but is designed to reduce the number of people sent to expensive skilled-nursing homes because their families can’t provide the attention and personal care they need.
Arizona will spend $825 million on the program this fiscal year, and the budget is expected to rise to at least $915 million next year. Medicaid provides two-thirds of the funding.
Maggie Peterson, executive director of Desert Palms, said the program pays an average $55 a day for each person living there. But it actually costs Desert Palms $65 to $75 a day, Peterson said. The 84 residents make payments from their limited incomes to cover a portion of the difference, and Desert Palms’ corporate owner absorbs the rest, Peterson said.