By Robert Kittle

The number of people over the age of 60 in South Carolina is growing quickly, so the Lt. Governor's Office on Aging is asking lawmakers for $4.7 million more next year to keep up with the needs.

Right now, the state has about 950,000 people over the age of 60. That's expected to reach 1.8 million by 2030. Office on Aging director Tony Kester says, "We're struggling today. If we don't start making some plans, providing some options, then we will be totally overwhelmed."

The additional money would expand services the agency already provides to help seniors stay in their homes for as long as possible. It provides: meals, both home delivered and at senior centers; transportation to medical appointments and to drugstores to pick up prescriptions; and light housekeeping.

63-year-old Thomas Ellis of Lexington gets meals delivered to his home. He contracted polio at the age of 5 and is now in a wheelchair, with limited use of his right arm. He says about his home-delivered meals, "That helps a lot by me getting to stay home, especially during the winter. I catch cold pretty easy."

He says it also gives him peace of mind. "I'm at the age where I could have a stroke or a heart attack, so them coming to my door, knocking on my door, is really a relief."

Kester says he knows state lawmakers are getting requests for more money next year from just about every state agency, but he says this is more cost effective. Providing services that allow a senior citizen to stay at home costs an average of $1,400, compared to $48,000 a year for a Medicaid nursing home bed.