State Commission Seeks to Prevent Malnutrition Among Older Ohioans

By Kate Warren
Research Associate
October 25, 2017

Last year, the Ohio General Assembly passed a bill (sponsored by Senator Gayle Manning) that established a Malnutrition Prevention Commission, the aim of which is to prevent malnutrition among older adults in the state and identify opportunities for health care cost savings related to the problem of malnutrition. The commission met for the first time in August, and is chaired by Dr. Mary Kate Francis, the Assistant Medical Director of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH). The second commission meeting took place on Monday, October 23, and the commission members heard testimony from a number of experts and stakeholders from around the state, including my testimony on behalf of The Center for Community Solutions.

The following people presented testimony:

  • Earl J. Lawson, The African American Alzheimer’s and Wellness Association
  • Rebecca Liebes, Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, Inc.
  • Meredith Ponder Whitmire, Defeat Malnutrition Today
  • Randy Schimmoeller & Chloe Plummer, ProMedica
  • Kate Warren, The Center for Community Solutions
  • Beth Kowalczyk, The Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging
  • Julie A. Palmer, LifeCare Alliance
  • Mary Beth Arensberg, Abbott Nutrition
  • Dr. Douglas Beach, Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging
  • Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, Ohio Assoc. of Foodbanks
  • Ainsley Malone and Suzanna Cryst
  • Susan Wallace, LeadingAge Ohio (written testimony)
  • Renee Mahaffey Harris, Ohio African American Coalition on Health Disparities (written testimony)

Some key themes emerged from the testimonies that were presented.

  1. Providers, experts, and advocates around the state agree that senior malnutrition is a growing issue that must be addressed urgently.
  2. Malnutrition inevitably leads to chronic health problems, which reduce quality of life for those affected, but also end up costing the state more money because of high health care and long-term care costs.
  3. Services of dieticians and other clinicians would be valuable, but many providers lack the ability to be reimbursed for certain types of service delivery that are needed.
  4. Providers around the state have implemented some innovative programs to prevent and reduce malnutrition among older adults (including farmers market nutrition programs, food clinics, and enhanced home-delivered meal programs that include wraparound services), however funding for this kind of programming is scarce, and is insufficient to scale these programs to meet the needs of the state’s older adult population.
  5. SNAP is sorely underutilized by older Ohioans. Several people testified to the possible reasons for this: pride or shame in asking for help, the misperception that if they enroll in SNAP they are taking benefits from someone else who needs them, and numerous barriers to enrollment including complicated application and recertification processes.

You can click here to read my testimony and the accompanying slides.

One of our policy priorities at Community Solutions is to improve the safety and wellbeing of older adults, and we are especially concerned with senior nutrition. Earlier this year, we released two papers (one authored by me, and one by Rachel Cahill) that detail this pressing issue and outline proposed policy solutions. Because this is an issue we prioritize, we will be tracking the important work of the Malnutrition Prevention Commission as it unfolds in the coming months.