Friday, March 8, 2013
By CHARLES BOOTHE - Staff Writer
Transportation, health care, housing, recreation and communication are some of the largest needs the aging population in Franklin County is already experiencing, and those service deficiencies will intensify.
That was the consensus of a focus group Tuesday on the coming "silver tsunami" that will see the number of seniors in the county make up a quarter of the population in about 12 years.
The meeting was held at the county's government center, with other focus groups scheduled in the coming weeks.
Maggie Gray, a member of the county's department of aging services advisory board and a member of Roanoke's Council of Community Services, said the meetings were part of a process to develop a strategic plan for the county to be ready to address services associated with an aging population.
Gray asked those in attendance, which included Rocky Mount District Supervisor Charles Wagner, assistant county Administrator Chris Whitlow, public safety Director Darryl Hatcher and Teresa Fontaine, director of the Southern Area Agency on Aging, to assess the situation related to services for seniors.
Several addressed the transportation issue, which is already the county's department of aging services' largest expense.
Of the department's $350,000 annual budget, about 80 percent goes to transportation, Gray said.
Seniors often need transportation to and from doctors' appointments, but other needs include groceries and recreation.
Dee Shoemaker said some seniors who no longer drive and need transportation services may not be aware of the service or be too proud to ask for help.
Wagner said a taxi service could be helpful for some seniors, but none is available in the county.
Hatcher said health care accessibility continues to be an issue mainly because of a lack of primary care physicians.
"There are no specialists in geriatric needs," he said.
Others cited the lack of housing for seniors who may not need assisted living but don't want to, or can't, keep up a house and yard.
"It would be so much smarter to keep people in their homes safely," Gray said, adding that programs are available to help do that, including home health care and house repair services through STEP Inc.
However, Fontaine said those services are available, but many have a waiting list and there is not enough funding to expand the services.
The SAAA includes Danville, Martinsville, and the counties of Franklin, Henry, Patrick, and Pittsylvania. Fontaine said many of these issues are problems throughout the region.
Dick Shoemaker said many seniors may not know about all of the services available and communication is often a problem.
"It (communication) is an issue," he said, adding that every avenue should be taken to make sure seniors are aware of services.
Dr. Sue Beatty, Gills Creek representative on the Franklin County Department of Aging Service's board of directors and one of the volunteers working on the strategic plan, said many are not aware of the 2-1-1 program.
Anyone dialing that number will be in contact with someone who will answer questions and can refer them to the appropriate agency or group.
Communication between organizations and groups can also be a problem, Wagner said.
"One organization often doesn't know what the other is doing," he said.
Gray said a community coalition was once in place in the county that provided that sort of communication, but the coalition was all-volunteer and eventually disbanded.
Marcia Cramblitt with the county's department of parks and recreation said providing seniors with recreation is an issue as well, especially now that many new retirees are very physically active. Having a multi-generational community center would help, providing a place for recreation, education and socializing.
Ferrum College students also attended. Members of sociology professor Peg Wimmer's class, Changing Roles in Society, have been helping with the project.
Wimmer said the project provides "hands-on" learning and in the process, students have developed their own topics of interest.
Kaitlyn Harlow, a junior, pointed out that counseling services are often needed to help families cope with death, as well as with Alzheimer's.
"Mental health counseling is often an ignored topic," she said.
Other needs voiced by those in attendance included a caregiver support group, dental services and a paid coordinator for a community coalition.
A move to address issues surrounding the expected growth of the county's aging population began in June last year when Beatty told the board of supervisors that a "silver tsunami" was coming.
In November 2012, the board approved a request from the county's department of aging services' advisory committee for $3,000 to hire a facilitator for the project.
Gray said a draft of a strategic plan should be ready by May and it may be presented to the board of supervisors in late summer or early fall.
Focus groups will also be held on Monday, March 11 at 4:30 p.m. at Redwood United Methodist Church; Thursday, March 14 at 6:30 p.m. at Faith Fellowship Church; Monday, March 18 at 4 p.m. at the Blue Ridge Institute in Ferrum; and Thursday, March 21 at Trinity Ecumenical Parish at 4 p.m.
A community town hall meeting on the issue is tentatively set for Saturday, March 23 at 10 a.m. at the community center (old train depot) in Rocky Mount.