HONOLULU — Hawaii lawmakers want to help the state’s seniors avoid a situation where they’ve fallen — and can’t get up.
The Legislature plan to allocate $80,000 for a new “fall prevention coordinator” position in the state Department of Health’s Emergency Management Division.
As Hawaii’s senior citizen population grew 116 percent over the last two decades — more than double the national pace of 47 percent — health department officials say the position will help Hawaii’s seniors remain healthy, productive and active.
Stanley Michaels Jr., 73, an employee with the state Department of Health, is the state’s current part-time, volunteer falls prevention coordinator.
Michaels, who took a bad fall himself leading to a hip replacement, said 8,700 Hawaii senior citizens go to the emergency room each year, costing the state $10 million annually just for transportation.
An estimated $90 million is spent on emergency room and hospital visits for seniors who took serious falls in which they broke their hips or hit their heads, with rehabilitation costs at about another $90 million, Michaels said.
The costs are expected to increase as Hawaii’s elderly population age 65 and up reaches 20 percent of the population by 2030.
Michaels currently gives presentations to seniors and caregivers, recommending seniors get their vision checked annually and review all medication side effects with a doctor or pharmacist; “safety proof” their home so there is no clutter, extension cords, throw rugs, or items on the floor; and exercise and carry an electronic monitoring device.
The suggestion to expand his presentations through a state-funded full time falls prevention coordinator and a taxpayer funded educational campaign emerged from task force that met for more than year to study the issue and determine possible solutions, Michaels said.
Senate Human Services Committee Chair Suzanne Chun Oakland agrees the government-funded position is essential because no nonprofit or private entity could coordinate fall prevention in the state with the authority of the state government.
Oakland said a coordinator could help keep seniors out of the hospital and decrease costs to the state.
However, Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom, the only Republican in the 25-member Senate, is opposed to adding the cost to the state budget bill.
“There is no question that falls are a major problem for seniors, but this bill, which has been pushed for years, will not prevent falls,” Slom said.
“Government wants a coordinator for all of life’s risks,” Slom said. “Taxpayers should not fall for more bureaucracy.”