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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) -
When an elderly woman's teeth were knocked out at a nursing home, her granddaughter set out to change the way elderly are treated in Louisiana.
Now more than a decade later, in part because of her work, voters will have a chance to create a new Department of Elderly Affairs.
As Vickie Larke reminisces with her mother and aunt, certain memories of the last few months of her grandmother's life bring tears to all of their eyes.
"I think my sister and I cried the first three-months that she was in there," said Catherine Giroir referring to her mother. "It was tough. It was really tough."
"My grandmother, they even knocked her teeth out of her mouth," said Vickie Larke. "She was abused. Bruises all the time, she had many, many bruises constantly."
"They said she fell out the bed. So, well, they didn't put the bars up. But then it just continued happening," said Patricia Aucoin
"To experience the abuse that my grandmother suffered and they had to endure and see and witness just broke my heart," said Larke.
It broke her heart, but strengthened the family's spirit to make sure others wouldn't endure the same terror. As legislative assistant to state Rep. Joe Harrison, Larke said she still gets calls from families with similar stories of abuse.
"Our parents, our grandparents and our great grandparents are very dear to us," Larke added. "And we want them to have the best care. A nursing home is and should be the last resort."
The Director of Advocacy for the Louisiana AARP Andrew Muhl agrees. He points to a recent AARP study that found the state over-institutionalizes aging residents.
"It's important for states to offer choices for people to stay in their own homes and their own communities," said Muhl. "The scorecard shows pretty clearly that people aren't getting the care they need in institutions, yet we keep shifting dollars to these institutions."
Muhl says nurse practitioners should have more authority to help home-aids and family caregivers. He said resources should be redirected to home-based care services such as meals on wheels and house-cleaning services.
"Those are more cost effective services, and they're higher quality," said Muhl.
For four years, Larke has been encouraging lawmakers to create a State Department of Elderly Affairs, which she hoped would help advocate for and oversee those types of home-based services.
"If they could have somebody come to their home, take them to a doctor's appointment, to get their medication - that is what I think every family would like to see with their loved ones," said Larke.
Together, Larke and Representative Joe Harrison helped pass a bill that would take the first step of creating a Department of Elderly Affairs. But first, voters will have to approve the creation of the new department in November.