Sen. Edith G. Prague, D-Columbia, returned to the State Capitol on Friday for the first time since her stroke on Christmas, showing no ill effects and pronouncing herself a candidate for re-election this fall.
“I am running for my seat. There’s no question,” Prague said after attending a press conference on home health care. “Too many important things are happening. I have to be here.”
Prague, 86, who is the oldest member of the state Senate, was mobbed as she entered a hearing room in the Legislative Office Building. When it was her turn to speak, she smiled and said, “And I can speak personally about home care.”
She spoke at length without notes about the need for easier access to home health care, noting that the fastest growing demographic in Connecticut was hers: age 85 and above.
“Thank you, Edith,” said Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, the co-chairwoman of the Public Health Committee. “We can see you are rested up and ready to go.”
The regular session for 2012 opens Feb. 8.
Prague has had a three-decade career in Hartford as a state representative, a commissioner of aging during the administration of Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. and a state senator since 1995.
She described the stroke as minor, though she was hospitalized for a week at Windham Hospital and then underwent rehabilitation at the Hospital for Special Care in New Britain.
“On Christmas Day, my daughter came over and noticed that the left side of my face didn’t look right,” Prague said. “There was nothing else. When I got to the hospital, they told me it was very minor stroke, lucky for me. Strokes can be devastating.”
She said the main issue during rehabilitation was regaining her balance.
“I’m fine now, thank God,” Prague said. “I have no lasting effects, and believe me I don’t take that for granted. My husband died as a result of a stroke, and it was devastating, devastating.”
With a smile, Prague said she has one remaining hurdle: “The only thing I can’t do yet is get clearance to drive my car and go where I want to go.”
Prague’s return came at a fitting event, meant to tout the state’s “rightsizing” initiative, which seeks to allow more people to receive long-term care at home, rather than in institutions. Prague is chairwoman of the legislature’s Aging Committee and has been a longtime advocate of allowing seniors to receive care at home rather than in nursing homes.
“It’s no secret that anybody who needs care wants to be at home to get that care,” Prague said. She noted that home care is less expensive than nursing home care, which costs the state more than $1 billion a year.
“I’m living proof that home care works,” she said.
Currently, just over half of the people who receive Medicaid-funded long-term care in Connecticut live at home or in community settings. The rightsizing effort is aimed at reducing barriers to getting home care, and state officials hope that doing so could make it possible for the vast majority of seniors and people with disabilities who are covered by Medicaid to get home- or community-based care if they want it, rather than living in nursing homes. Medicaid is the largest payer of long-term care services in the state.
At Friday’s press conference, members of a legislative work group on home health services spoke of the confusion consumers face in selecting home care services and unveiled a consumer education guide that offers information on the types of services available, the duties workers in each can do and their training and supervision. It is available online.
Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, spoke of the challenges of finding the right home care services for her mother-in-law, who had a stroke recently. She said her family hit “brick wall after brick wall,” despite knowing people in agencies they could call for help.
Tracy Wodatch, vice president of clinical and regulatory services at the Connecticut Association of Home Care and Hospice, which worked on the home care brochure, said there’s a need for consumer education about the varied services that are available. “We have a dynamic home and community care world right now and it will continue to change as more and more people move into the community,” she said.