A decade or so ago when I worked for the Boomer Project, principals John Martin and Matt Thornhill warned that local governments in Virginia needed to prepare themselves for the age wave. The elderly have special needs, not all of which can be met by Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. People in the health care and social services communities seemed interested in what John and Matt had to say, but nothing much happened. Now we’re ten years down the line, and localities are beginning to feel the pinch.
Take Fairfax County for example, a jurisdiction of 1.1 million population which is expected to see its elderly population grow from 135,000 to 172,000 over the next eight years. A Washington Post review of 13 agency budget reports found that services for seniors drove spending increases of $43.8 million since 2014, or nearly 10 percent of the county’s total spending growth.
Old people? Who would have figured?
The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department is on pace to exceed 100,000 emergency calls this year — 10,000 more than in 2014. People age 65 or older represent 40 percent of the volume. The agency’s budget has grown nearly 19 percent in the past four years. …
Fairfax’s Division of Adult and Aging Services, which connects elderly residents to county programs and operates a hotline for seniors and their caregivers, has increased its budget by $986,000 since 2014.
Last year, the hotline took in nearly 17,000 calls, up from 15,400 in 2013. They varied from pleas for Medicaid assistance to arranging rides to doctor’s appointments and setting up in-home care. Calls to the hotline led social workers to open 2,714 cases for adult protective services, which applies to people who are no longer able to function independently. …
Elderly slip-and-fall cases are a huge concern as senior citizens become less mobile, officials say. That has contributed to a rising demand for assisted-living centers and nursing homes. In Fairfax and elsewhere, proposals for new or expanded facilities have sparked major zoning battles and concerns over the cost of and effect on roads, sewers and other services.
“The vast majority of people want to stay in their communities as they age, but many of those communities weren’t designed for that,” said Rodney Harrell, a public policy director at AARP. “We’ve spent decades, and maybe even centuries, not planning for aging and designing for aging.”
Seniors’ needs don’t just crowd out operating budgets, they make demands on capital budgets. Last year Fairfax voters approved $37 million in bonds to replace an aging senior center in Chantilly and build a new one in Lorton. Given competing demands for capital funds — parks, sewers, and other infrastructure — the county has deferred asking voters to approve $16 million in bonds for a senior center in Springfield.
Bacon’s bottom line: Wake up, people! The age wave is not some abstract thing that will happen a decade or two from now. It’s here. Federal government deficits amounted to $688 billion in the fiscal year just closed, due in large measure to age-related entitlements that neither Republicans nor Democrats have the stomach to fix. Deficits will be running $1 trillion a year within a few years even if the economy remains strong. Meanwhile, local governments, which are fiscally stressed already, are under increasing pressure to deliver senior-related services on an unprecedented scale. Local governments can’t take over the role of care-giver, but they can do a lot through zoning and transportation reforms to help seniors remain independent for longer. It’s time for creative thinking.There are currently no comments highlighted.