Influencers Opinion

A large group of Californians are aging quickly. Here’s how we care for them

‘California Priorities’ panel examines health and care for seniors

At a Focus on Health Care program hosted by The Modesto Bee, local and state experts discuss issues and solutions tied to our families — most specifically, our children and seniors.
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At a Focus on Health Care program hosted by The Modesto Bee, local and state experts discuss issues and solutions tied to our families — most specifically, our children and seniors.

Note to readers: Each week through November 2019, a selection of our 101 California Influencers answers a question that is critical to California’s future. Topics include education, healthcare, environment, housing and economic growth. One influencer each week is also invited to write a column that takes a closer look at the issue.

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Like a fading Hollywood legend, California is in denial that she’s aging and needs “a little work done” to continue in her role as the nation’s leading lady.

Over the next decade or so, the over-65 population will increase by 4 million, nearly doubling today’s population of older Californians. Policymakers must consider major changes to the way services are provided to seniors to allow them to live with dignity at home if possible and allow their family members to continue in the workforce.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. In 2015, the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) published a report on California’s senior population that highlighted the dramatic increase in terms of numbers and costs.

Yet, the report failed to generate a response from California’s leaders.

The public, however, has been dealing with the lack of long-term services and support as caregivers, who must navigate a patchwork of systems that are, frankly, unaffordable to most. The threat of poverty and homelessness hangs over the heads of millions of California families.

Opinion

In fact, a June 2018 statewide survey conducted by We Stand With Seniors, a nonpartisan, public awareness and education campaign, found that nearly 64 percent of voters think the state is not doing enough to address senior needs. A stunning 84 percent say they would be more likely to support a gubernatorial candidate who had a vision and long-term plan to address the state’s increasing need for senior services.

Any older Californian or family caregiver of a senior could tell you that the state has long had a disjointed, confusing and insufficient system of senior care. It is a system characterized by a lack of coordinated and accessible healthcare and long-term care, a near absence of senior dental care and a scarcity of programs focused on mental health, affordable housing, caregiver support, nutrition, home health or transportation. And, as the PPIC report pointed out, California was and is experiencing a dearth of trained, culturally-competent workers to attend to seniors’ needs.

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Adding to this long list of challenges is the sad reality that more than

2 million seniors are already living in or near poverty

, leaving them more vulnerable and less able to access existing services. Without some action, it’s clear California is on a trajectory toward a generational humanitarian and fiscal crisis not seen since the Great Depression.

Fortunately, with these facts in hand and at the urging of We Stand With Seniors and other senior stakeholders, Gov. Gavin Newsom recently issued an executive order calling for the creation of a state Master Plan for Aging. This is a promising start, but the hard work is still to come.

Making the significant and needed changes to the way we provide services and address the needs of the growing senior population will entail the sustained commitment of policy makers and senior stakeholders. It will require the attention and coordination of multiple state and local government agencies. It calls for public input.

And in transforming our system, the Master Plan for Aging must address healthcare, dental and long-term care services, as well as transportation needs, affordable and accessible housing, and infrastructure and financing challenges. The plan must also consider and address the impact of aging on marginalized communities. This all needs to happen thoughtfully, but it must also happen soon.

Aging is everybody’s business: The seniors who have contributed greatly to this state, the families who overwhelmingly undertake the role of senior caregivers, often at the emotional and financial expense of their growing families, our communities, policy makers and healthcare organizations, as well as any others that provide senior services.

We all want to age safely and with dignity. The Master Plan for Aging holds that promise. Let’s all make sure it’s a promise fulfilled.

Kassy Perry is president and CEO of the Perry Communications Group. She is also a California Health Care Influencer for McClatchy’s California Influencers series.

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