State budget language inserted late in the session is sparking anger about the future of a unit within the Governor’s Office that responds to elderly abuse complaints.
State Rep. Joe Harrison and parish Council on Aging officials accused the Jindal administration Tuesday of snubbing the Legislature by pushing forward with transferring the unit to another state agency, even though legislators had rejected the move. The transfer resurrects a controversial issue that legislators thought they had resolved to the satisfaction of droves of senior citizens who lobbied them during the session.
Harrison, R-Napoleonville, said Commissioner of Administration Paul Rainwater, the governor’s chief budget aide, is not returning his calls.
“We’re getting a lot of double-speak right now. ... When you don’t win, you find ways to win,” Harrison said of the governor’s approach to the issue.
At issue is the Jindal administration’s push to move the Office of Elderly Affairs’ adult protection services to the state Department of Health and Hospitals, which has an Office of Aging and Adult Services.
The Office of Elderly Affairs’ protection service unit investigates reports that people age 60 or older are being abused or neglected. The Office of Aging and Adult Services handles cases involving disabled individuals under age 60.
The Jindal administration wants to consolidate the two service units, while keeping part of the Office of Elderly Affairs under the umbrella of the Governor’s Office. Legislators and Council on Aging officials oppose any dismantling of the office.
Senate Bill 762, the legislation to make the transfer, died on the Louisiana House floor during the session that ended earlier this month.
However, House Bill 1, the $25.6 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts in July, still moves 22 positions and $2.5 million in funding tied to the elderly abuse unit from the Office of Elderly Affairs to DHH.
The Jindal administration contends HB1, once coupled with a memorandum of understanding, will give the authority to make the move despite SB762’s failure.
The transfer would ignore a resolution that the House adopted asking Rainwater to move the funding and positions back to the Office of Elderly Affairs, which is housed in the Governor’s Office.
“We do have a serious disagreement right now,” Harrison said.
Harrison, who sponsored the resolution, said he is asking the state Attorney General’s Office for a legal opinion on whether the positions and funding can be shuffled to DHH.
DHH Secretary Bruce Greenstein said Tuesday that he is uncertain whether the Jindal administration can do what the resolution requests.
“I haven’t thought about it,” he said.
Greenstein said the elderly protective service functions will move to DHH with the governor’s signature of HB1 into law.
“This transfer consolidates adult and elderly protective services under one roof, eliminates duplicative services, more effectively leverages resources, and, most importantly, better serves vulnerable populations throughout the state,” he said.
DHH Deputy Secretary Kathy Kliebert said DHH will enter into a memorandum of understanding with the Office of Elderly Affairs to smooth out the problems caused by the legislation’s failure.
Currently, DHH has the positions and funding while the Office of Elderly Affairs has the responsibility to offer the program.
Kliebert said affected employees will transfer to DHH and protective services will continue without any interruption. “We have to follow what’s in HB1. There’s no way that we can just ignore it,” she said.
Shannon Broussard with the Lafayette-based Cajun Area Council on Aging Inc. fired off emails to legislators this week about the issue.
“At this point the Jindal administration is sending a clear message — the Democratic process is a ruse, a process that only works if the current administration wants it to work,” she wrote.
This is not the first controversy for the governor this year over the Office of Elderly Affairs.
The office oversees funding for Councils on Aging, which help keep senior citizens in their own homes. The office also operates a unit that takes calls about the possible physical, emotional and financial abuse of the elderly.
Initially, the governor wanted to move the entire office to DHH. Council on Aging officials objected, fearing the loss of funding and influence in the mammoth health-care agency. The Office of Elderly Affairs’ director, Martha Manuel, publicly criticized the move.
Jindal, like governors before him, dropped talk of moving the entire office.
His administration fired Manuel and then pushed forward with moving just the protective services portion of the office.
The tailored-down proposal also met with resistance and seemed to die.
However, the insertion of budget language moving the positions and funding is keeping it alive.
Darlene Schexnayder, executive director of the Ascension Council on Aging Inc., said the protective services unit functions well where it is.
“Their administrative costs are high at DHH. If they’re going to take any of the funding for administrative costs, then what’s going to happen with the program?” she asked.