Report highlights funding need for senior services
EVERETT - The need for additional senior services in the near future is clear, but the question health officials face is how to fund them.
The baby boomer generation, described by some as a large ball winding its way through a python, will cause large changes in need.
Seniors 65 and older represent 10 percent of Snohomish County’s population today, or about 75,000 people. By 2030, the number jumps to 20 percent, or nearly 200,000 seniors, according to estimates from the state Office of Financial Management.
The Snohomish Health District is finding that seniors’ highest needs are health care, affordable housing, nutrition and transportation.
The district released its second part of its ongoing study on aging last month. This part included interviews from a handful of key county officials. The latest report confirmed many of the findings the district found from interviewing numerous seniors last year, district assessment statistician Mark Serafin said.
America will need to close gaps in Medicare coverage. Already, seniors face gaps in dental and vision coverage with Medicare. Seniors also face challenges finding doctors who will accept Medicare patients, district assessment specialist Wendy Blaisdell said.
Monroe, for example, only has one health care provider that accepts new Medicare patients, Blaisdell said. Many seniors end up having to go to the emergency room for their needs, driving up “charity care” costs for hospitals.
But baby boomers will be more politically active than their predecessors.
“They’re going to be more active in shaping their future,” Blaisdell said.
They also might change the perception of what is a senior. Senior centers already are changing their activity schedules to add more energetic activities. The centers also might add more job training and computer classes, Blaisdell said.
In the future, senior centers may morph into community centers.
Nutrition, transportation and walkability
Officials fear more seniors may face isolation.
Seniors will be less able to drive to restaurants or their friend’s house, leading to poor nutrition and depression.
Seniors “hit a wall right away” after receiving mental health referrals from doctors, Blaisdell said. Medicare doesn’t cover it.
Males 65 and older hold some of the highest suicide rates, Serafin said.
People in rural areas are hit hardest. They may not be able to get to senior centers, and may not have access to good food.
When Community Transit cut Sunday bus service in the wake of lost revenue, including Sunday paratransit service, a large segment of seniors lost their ability to get to church, Serafin said. For some, church provides a social outlet.
Senior Services of Snohomish County runs a meals on wheels program and has 13 meal congregation sites at senior centers.
Senior Services sometimes uses the meals to entice people to get together to help prevent isolation. Meals on wheels workers often identify multiple problems senior clients have during their one-on-one visits.
More congregation sites would help more people avoid isolation, but the issue is funding, Senior Services of Snohomish County nutrition director Martha Peppones said. “We just don’t have the money.”
The program runs mostly on federal funding. Senior Services is trying to add revenue by building a central kitchen and winning contracts by providing food to nonprofit groups.
Transportation and access will be another challenge. Seniors also need easy access to nearby restaurants and shops. Everett city planner Dave Koenig, who participated in the health district study, said more seniors are likely to move to smaller homes closer to other amenities.
Everett is “a good example” of good urban planning for seniors, Blaisdell said. Conversely, seniors in rural areas have the most difficult time.
Downtown Everett’s sidewalks are wide and expansive, and the city put in “curb cuts” – small ramps at intersections – that require no steps or bumps for people in wheelchairs. The city rebuilt Hewitt, Colby and Hoyt avenues.
Most of the sidewalk improvements benefit everyone, not just seniors, Koenig said.
Everett’s downtown is close together, making walking from downtown abodes to shops easier. Everett’s tight-knit grid makes the city’s walking score high.
“You can thank the city forefathers for that,” Koenig joked when Blaisdell’s compliment was relayed to him. Everett built its downtown more than 120 years ago, so streets are close together.
The city’s Evergreen Way Revitalization Plan is the next step. The city wants to create hubs of urban shopping centers to accommodate nearby residents along Evergreen Way, using Community Transit’s Swift line as a linchpin for transportation.
Everett is encouraging more housing downtown to rejuvenate itself. Also, two affordable senior housing sites opened up downtown in the past 20 years.
In Snohomish, a senior housing apartment building opened in 2010 next to the Snohomish Senior Center. It has 21 units.
Senior Services of Snohomish County, though, found its housing program has more than 100 seniors on the waiting list.
People can check out the entire report online at snohd.org/Shd_HS/Reports/FinalKIReport.pdf.
By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published Feb. 1, 2012