Sunday, June 22, 2014
(Marin County) Grand jury says Marin lacks plan to cope with aging residents
June 19, 2014
By Richard Halstead
Marin News (marinij.com)
A new grand jury report finds that the county lacks a comprehensive, long-term strategic plan to deal with Marin's burgeoning ranks of low-income seniors.
The grand jury report, released this week, recommends that the Board of Supervisors take a leadership role in developing a plan that will take full advantage of the county's nonprofit sector and volunteer community.
Little progress has been made, jurors noted, since a previous grand jury published its report, "Aging in Marin — An Essay in Uneasiness." That report, published in 2007, warned that Marin was ill prepared for the "silver tsunami' about to engulf it.
According to the new report, "In fact, our review informs us that the big wave has broken on our shore. Whether we recognize it or not, we have already gotten wet."
The report states that one in four residents of Marin is 60 years or older and by 2030 one in three residents will be a senior — some 121,000 residents. And it adds, "There are a growing number of Marin seniors without adequate financial resources to meet their basic needs."
The jury reports that 3,500 Marin seniors over 65 have annual incomes below the Federal Poverty Level of $11,670. And, it says another 9,000 to 12,000 Marin seniors over the age of 60 exist on less than $29,000 per year; the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research estimates that is the minimum amount a Marin senior renter needs to cover expenses for food, shelter, transportation and health care.
Lee Pullen, director of Marin County's Aging and Adult Services division, said seniors who take in less than $29,000 and more than $11,670 annually can't qualify for public assistance, but they don't have enough money to pay for care giving if they need it.
"We want to know more about them, where they live, their ethnicity and their health conditions to see how we can address their needs," Pullen said.
The grand jury reports that all of the services provided by the county's Division of Aging and Adult Services are supported by federal and state funding. It states, "These funds were drastically reduced during the recent recession and as a result of the federal government's sequestration."
For example, reductions in federal funding have resulted in cuts to the Meals on Wheels program, which is operated by Whistlestop, a San Rafael-based nonprofit. The program delivers meals to people deemed "homebound."
The grand jury writes, "We discovered a wait list for delivered meals, and the county, due to reduced funding, has tightened its definition of 'homebound,' limiting the number of people who qualify."
Joe O'Hehir, Whistlestop's chief executive officer, said, "The county did step up and backfill some of the money we weren't seeing from the federal government."
O'Hehir said that allowed Whistlestop to meet its goal of delivering 68,000 meals during the fiscal year ending June 30.
One of the grand jury's recommendations is that the county work with federal and state governments and nonprofits to provide adequate funding for mandated services, such as Meals on Wheels, to ensure there are no wait lists for eligible Marin seniors.
The grand jury states, "The Board of Supervisors must be prepared, if necessary, to reallocate funding of existing non-senior programs to provide the county's share of needed senior programs."
The grand jury also found that information on available senior services is often difficult to access. It recommends providing training to organizations that offer information on senior programs.
It also suggests making available specially trained "navigators," people knowledgeable enough to help seniors assess their situation and then point toward appropriate sources for help. And the grand jury also suggests the county collaborate with nonprofits to create an aggressive outreach program to educate Marin residents about services for seniors.
The report only makes passing reference to an action initiative that the county's Aging and Adult Services division plans to launch this summer with a community summit.
"It really is our big action plan that we have underway right now," said Lee Pullen, director of Marin County's Aging and Adult Services division.
The summit will bring together representatives of county government, nonprofits, the faith community, and the Marin Community Foundation. The goal is to create work teams to begin addressing five key problem areas for seniors: mental health, dementia, nutrition, care coordination and economic disparity.
"The scope of the thing is pretty big," said James Monson, chairman of the Marin County Commission on Aging, which advises county supervisors. But Monson said he isn't sure the initiative adequately addresses the need for a comprehensive plan of action.O'Hehir, who is on the steering committee helping to plan the upcoming summit, said, "Older adults have been studied and analyzed a lot. We now need to move toward actions and addressing some of these issues."