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Patricia Kimball is executive director of the Elder Abuse Institute of Maine.

“I’m really worried about my mom. She’s fallen down her porch steps twice in the past month, and she’s pretty banged up. Now she’s not even going out. The in-home care service she needs can’t get her help for months. I’d love to pay her neighbor to come in to support her in the meantime, but since my sister took money from Mom’s account, she can’t afford it. I don’t know how to help her any more than I am, and it’s not enough. … I am so afraid something bad is going to happen.”

Situations like these are common for at-risk older adults and their families across Maine. Over-burdened systems of care mean that effective solutions to problems of this nature are elusive. Resources are limited for individuals who want to age in their homes, but need extra help to do so safely and sustainably. Organizations that provide in-home care services are understaffed, with months-long waits; home repair and maintenance programs are backlogged; and many other solutions aren’t an option for those with lower incomes.

As Maine’s 60-plus population continues its rapid growth, we’re bound to see more of these challenges, especially since one in every nine Mainers will experience some form of abuse, neglect, exploitation or inability to meet basic needs during their later years.

Fortunately, Gov. Janet Mills has taken decisive steps to improve the support available to Maine’s older adults by proposing $169 million in funding for healthy aging programs in her biennial budget. In addition to allocations for nursing home reform and sustainable living initiatives, including home-delivered meals and expanded home-based care, the governor’s budget also earmarks $4 million to bolster elder justice programs across the state.

Responding to the recommendations of the Elder Justice Coordinating Partnership, this proposal includes an expansion of Adult Protective Services (APS) capacity as “first responders” in addressing situations of abuse, additional resources for civil legal services to protect the rights of older adults and making permanent Maine’s innovative Elder Service Connections program.

Since 2019, Elder Service Connections, a program of the nonprofit Elder Abuse Institute of Maine, has been working with older adults across Maine to ensure that critical needs are met in a way that honors their wishes and promotes well-being. Advocates in our program partner with Adult Protective Services to respond to complex situations in which an older person needs and wants services beyond the immediate safety issues typically addressed by APS.

With our clients, we build an individualized plan that centers the voice and choice of the person experiencing harm and leverages the strengths that each person brings to the process — after all, these individuals have spent a lifetime identifying what they value and acting on what is important to them, and there’s no reason that should stop. We foster long-term relationships with both service providers and informal supporters, creating a team that is committed to the client’s well-being.

Our work is broad in scope: we establish in-home and long-term care services, assist with housing stability issues, advocate with service providers, support connections to legal services and more. Elder Service Connections advocates have served more than 400 clients across the state since the program’s inception. It’s not uncommon for clients to tell us that the work we did in partnership with them “saved” their lives — something that reinforces the importance of our work and the urgency for continued funding.

As the Legislature continues to negotiate on the governor’s budget, it’s critical that appropriate levels of funding flow to the agencies that meet the needs of Maine’s older adults. I’m grateful for Mills’ vision and commitment to this population and look forward to the passage of her budget with full funding for healthy aging, including the investment necessary to solidify and expand elder justice programs here in Maine.