Prevention may help curb long-term-care costs

As the costs of long-term care for seniors continue to climb, especially in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, officials with Maui agencies that deal with aging suggest senior residents take more preventative measures.

A recent study by the nation’s largest seller of long-term-care insurance found that the average annual cost for single rooms at a nursing home on Maui range from $114,975 to $173,375. The average cost for a bedroom at an assisted-living facility would cost much less – about $28,500 per year – though additional health care costs are often required, the Genworth Financial study found.

Even hiring someone to provide care for an elder in-home can become a taxing financial burden for Maui families, as the average cost for homemaker services ranges from $53,493 to $59,488 per year.

The average length of a long-term-care claim is about three years, the study said.

Maui County Executive on Aging Deborah Arendale agreed that the cost of long-term care on Maui was escalating and would continue to rise in the coming years.

“Two years ago, we put our mom in Kula Hospital, I think then it was $14,068 a month, and the price has gone up from there. So, yes, prices are going up every day, every year,” Arendale said.

She said her family’s experience is not out of the ordinary. There are about 32,000 seniors (age 60 and older) currently in Maui County, and that number is expected to jump to 54,000 by 2020, Arendale said.

“Frankly, I think every family in Maui County will be affected, most likely in a direct manner,” Arendale said. “And it’s great we’re all living longer, but our bottom line is to hopefully help people live longer in a healthy way so they can save on some of these costs.”

The county Office on Aging has, in recent years, adopted more preventative efforts such as an EnhanceFitness exercise class for seniors, a Better Choices Better Health program that helps people with chronic illnesses gain self-management abilities, and services for the caregivers, whose own health is often neglected.

“We find that people wait too long until they’re already in crisis and we may have had a resource to provide them that could’ve kept them from crisis,” Arendale said, adding that residents approaching their 60s should call the county office just to find out what programs may be available to help them lead healthier, more independent lifestyles.

Arendale said that since January, the number of calls her office has received from residents has more than doubled from just a few years ago, and she expects that number to keep growing with the county’s aging population.

Room rates at Hale Makua’s nursing homes range from $305 to $335 per day at the Kahului site, and from $278 to $330 per day at the Wailuku site. Kula Hospital also offers a nursing home, though residents said it was one of the more expensive options on Maui. Roselani Place provides assisted-living facilities, but not the extended health care services of a nursing home.

With Maui’s aging population, many families and seniors struggle to afford long-term care, even with federal assistance from Medicaid and Medicare.

“Most of our clients are moderate to low income, so they don’t have the option of paying $50 for a cab to get their treatment,” said Candace Carter, executive director of volunteer group Na Hoaloha. The nonprofit offers services for seniors by matching them with volunteers who can drive them to doctor appointments, help with household chores and keep them company.

The group started 18 years ago on Maui as a provider of short-term respite care, but today serves about 300 senior clients with the help of about 200 volunteers, Carter said. She said that she has also noticed an increase in demand for services in the last few years, though she could not provide exact numbers.

Carter also recognizes the need for pre-emptive care, and said her organization has partnered with the county Office on Aging to begin a “time bank” for families that can’t afford long-term care financially, but may have other marketable skills that could benefit other members of the community.

A time bank is a service-exchange system that allows people to essentially trade and barter time as if it were money. For example, one person may opt to repair someone else’s leaky faucet in exchange for a ride to the airport.

The proposed time bank system is still in its early stages, though Carter hopes to kick off the program this year.

For now, both Carter and Arendale recommend that people start thinking about long-term care sooner rather than later, and find out what programs they could be a part of.

“Even if you don’t think you have a current need, call us and find out what’s available,” Arendale said. “Call early and call often.”

The Genworth study, touted as the most comprehensive study of its kind, surveyed more than 15,000 long-term-care providers nationwide, including two areas in Hawaii – on Maui (Kahului, Wailuku and Lahaina areas) and urban Honolulu.

“With the number of Americans over 65 projected to double over the next 40 years, continued increases in the cost of care and limited public financing options available to cover these costs, long-term care is one of the most important social issues of our time,” Genworth President Tom McInerney said in a statement.

* Eileen Chao can be reached at