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Gov eyes mobility among elderly Ohioans

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Gov. John Kasich said Tuesday his administration plans to launch a program aimed at preventing falls among older Ohioans and their consequent injuries.

The 61-year-old Kasich, speaking at a luncheon hosted by AARP Ohio, said pride may keep elderly residents from using a walker or a wheelchair at a time when they could use assistance. And when they fall, it takes them longer to recover from injuries, he said.

After the speech, the governor said specifics on the program were not yet available, and added that the state can't prevent falls and injury in all cases.

"But everybody we save, everybody we help means we're getting better," he said.

The director of Ohio's Department of Aging said about 14 percent of those who leave the PASSPORT in-home nursing care program for more expensive nursing homes do so because they have fallen.

"We are going to be working along to create programs to ensure that these individuals and their health care workers know how to keep people from falling," said Aging Director Bonnie Kantor-Burman. "It's very, very simple, but we haven't trained people appropriately."

She said more details on the initiative would be released in September.

Kasich floated the idea of having college students volunteer to drive elderly Ohioans who can no longer safely get behind the wheel. Students played a key role in checking on the elderly last summer when many were without power after a storm, he said.

Kasich's speech to the powerful lobbying group also included his take on exercise. The governor urged older Ohioans to make physical fitness a priority.

"Now I know that some of our seniors might worry, 'Well, if I go to the gym, what do I wear?' No one cares what you wear," he said to laughter. "Just go, OK?"

Kasich said he feels better after putting in time at the gym, and then he doesn't worry as much about nutrition.

"I only say that because I just had some Ben & Jerry's Chocolate Fudge Brownie last night," he said.

On a more serious note, the Republican governor called again for expanding the federal-state Medicaid program to cover thousands more low-income Ohioans, a policy position that AARP Ohio has supported.

Medicaid expansion is one of the key components of Democratic President Barack Obama's federal health care law. Opponents fear being stuck with the long-term costs of an expanded program, which would be paid for mainly by the federal government.

Kasich, a former congressman who chaired the U.S. House budget committee, said the state would withdraw from the expansion if the federal government didn't meet its obligations.

"If the money's not there, we withdraw. We're not going to bankrupt Ohio. It's just this simple. Does anyone here doubt that I'm not tough enough to withdraw?" Kasich quipped. "So we need to get that done."

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