Boomergeddon Watch: The Elderly Require Millions in Local Government Services

The Lorton Senior Center in Fairfax County. Photo credit: Washington Post

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.

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7 responses to “Boomergeddon Watch: The Elderly Require Millions in Local Government Services

  1. What strikes me is our Va. gov’t structure (and infrastructure) is not very good when it comes to community facilities in “census defined” areas. We have the Burke-West Springfield senior group with no place to call home. The area Annandale-Burke-Springfield-Alexandria (Fx Co) has a big population, but no town halls and no mayors, we are just in HOA limbo. Fx Co. Public Schools do a marvelous job re: community use, but the school activities and construction schedules for the schools tend to wipe out much of the space there. For example, West Springfield High and TJ have been closed for community use some many years due to construction, so the schools that are open are swamped. As a community band leader, I can attest there are very few venues in our immediate area. Had to do over again, we might have selected a “real town” like Vienna or Fairfax to live in. Funny how tiny the populations of the “towns” are, but they have more to offer in some ways.

  2. Many horrible trends are working here to create a man-made train wreck.

    Two of those many trends include:

    1/ Our elder care today is being designed to destroy the quality of life of our elderly so as to drain those elderly of their wealth, literally by keeping them alive long past any hope for a quality of live so as to milk them of their wealth so they die penniless.

    2. Our government’s social welfare system and our perverse cultural ethic now destroys families, destroys family formation, destroys the chance for human procreation, and destroys the opportunity of our nation’s youth of their opportunity to acquire any values that give long term meaning and support to their lives.

    We are quite actively and intentionally destroying our culture, and its future, leaving our most vulnerable, the elderly and our children, alone to suffer the dire consequences of our actions .

    • I agree here with comments of others.

      My comment above was not clearly expressed. I was referring to the high cost of dying where costs can be astronomical given a system in place that far too often strips people of their right to die natural deaths, unlike hospice.

  3. So who is responsible for the elderly or perhaps a more direct question – who is responsible for you and me when we get old?

    And if we -you and I – do not save enough to pay for our needs – when we get old – should we expect others to pay for our needs?

    When you do get old and you have needs – is it your responsibility to liquidate your wealth to pay for your needs or expect the govt to pay for your needs?

    If we did not mandate Social Security and subsidize Medicare – how many of us would end up unable to care financially for our own needs and become wards of the state?

    I know a fella that saved his whole life – and had accumulated a significant amount of money that he intended to leave to his kids until he had a stroke – not enough to kill him but enough to require virtually 24/7 help.. which is going to eat through most all of his wealth and then some even though he had long-term care insurance.

    Do we blame this on someone? Who is responsible for this?

  4. We need to separate local costs from federal costs. The growing number of elderly are going to push up federal costs because of their increased need for health care. More elderly, more health care. However, there are things that can be done to help reduce this growth. Arterial fibrillation (or a-fib) is a common ailment, especially among older middle aged and elderly people. A-fib causes the upper chambers of the heart to quiver which can lead to blood clots. The blood clots go into the circulatory system, clog an blood vessel in the head and cause a stroke. The medical treatment is to take blood thinners, the surgical treatment is to insert a fairly simple device into the heart that stops the formation of clots (Watchman Device). Treating a-fib is vastly superior (from a cost and quality of life perspective) to treating the resultant strokes. However, a-fib can be very hard to detect. A person might not feel the fibrillation or they may not find it of particular concern. Unless the patient is hooked up to a heart monitor at the time of an a-fib event the doctor won’t see it. The diagnosis rate for a-fib in people 65 to 80 years old is 7% (as I recall). However, in a recent study people wore continuous heart monitors for 2 months. The results were then analyzed. 25% of the people in the 65 to 80 age bracket had a-fib. Moral of the story – if you want insurance you’ll wear the damn heart monitor for a couple of months.

    At the local level the elderly do not add to the average per-person municipal costs. Why? They don’t have minor children to be educated in the public schools. This vastly overwhelms any added costs from building senior centers or extra ambulance rides. They also don’t commit crime at a perceptible rate. No need to expand the jails as the elderly population increases. They don’t commute long distances to work and don’t require roads to be expanded. The elderly own a disproportionate percentage of the nation’s wealth. They also aren’t supporting children so much of that wealth is disposable. They spend a lot and pay a lot in sales taxes. They own retirement condos and pay out real estate taxes. They cash in their 401(k)’s and pay all kinds of taxes. Their pensions are usually taxed. When they die most states levy an estate tax on the wealthier of the geriatric set.

    If I were the mayor of a small city in SouthWest Virginia I’d spend a lot of time in NoVa and Richmond trying to convince the elderly how happy they would be if they’d just relocate to my small town.

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