By Adam Burroughs
Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio CEO Suzanne Burke (pictured above) is seeing a rising need for her organization’s services.
“Almost all of our programs are growing,” Burke says. “And I don't know about the next five years, but 10 years out, there are going to be significant changes.”
Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio (COA) promotes choice, independence, dignity, and well-being in the senior population through services designed to help older adults and people with disabilities remain in their homes and communities.
“Most people want to stay in their homes as long as they can,” she says. “Our mission, through the provision of services, is to enable them to do that.”
Currently, thousands of baby boomers retire every day.
“And to be honest, the majority of them are not prepared for aging,” Burke says. “People think that they're not going to need help.”
Too many people fail to plan for aging, says Burke, and don’t take steps such as having conversations with adult children about who will care for an elderly parent and planning financially, for example, by buying long-term care insurance. People also tend to underestimate how much help they are going to need and how much it will cost.
When an injury or disability occurs, that person may need nursing home care, which can cost between $8,000 and $10,000 per month, says Burke. At that rate, life savings can quickly be depleted, leaving a person to depend on a state-funded program. And the number of those who need help is only going to go up.
“That's a concern for us, knowing the sheer numbers that are coming as a result of aging in our state and knowing that many people are not prepared for long-term care,” she says. “That's our future.”
Filling the gaps
COA is addressing this problem by providing those who reside in their own homes with assessments to determine care needs and ensuring that services—including home-delivered meals, help with bathing and grooming, and medical transportation—are delivered.
“We're bringing home- and community-based services to them to enable them to stay at home rather than have to be put in a nursing home,” she says.
She says many people need some basic level of assistance as they age, and COA works to fill the gaps where family members can't address some aspect of a person’s care. For example, a son can take his elderly mother to the doctor and get her groceries, but he might not feel comfortable giving her a bath. In that instance, COA supplements a home care agency service for bathing to round out what he's not able to provide.
Creating employer awareness
Supplementing the care a family member provides to an aging parent is become a more pressing issue in the communities COA serves. And the organization has had to innovate to meet that need.
Burke says COA is working to build awareness in the business community about employees who are caring for an elderly family member. It’s doing so in part through a customized survey for employees that tells employers to what extent its workforce provides caregiving activities to an elderly family member.
“Everyone understands childcare, right?” says Burke. “For a lot of employers, that's an easy concept, but they don’t understand to what extent their employees are providing care for parents. And more and more are doing that.”
To help their employees address those concerns, employers are inviting COA to give informational sessions to their workforces about resources that can make caring for an elderly family member a little less difficult. And COA is doing its part to try to decrease the burden. Burke says COA served more than 22,000 individuals in their homes last year, a number that is only going to continue to grow.
“The issue, with the demographics, is that more and more people are going to be taking care of their parents while they’re trying to work, and that’s something that needs to be addressed,” Burke says.
Meeting the challenge
Given the challenges COA faces as it deals with the area’s aging population, Burke says it is grateful for the support of Huntington.
“They’ve been a great banking organization for us,” Burke says. “They’ve had opportunities to promote what we do, which we’re very appreciative of.”
The recognition is helpful, she says, because one of COA’s key goals is to spread awareness not just of the organization but of the importance of preparing for aging.
“People don’t always plan for it, so it’s important that when the time comes, they know who to contact,” Burke says.
Huntington’s willingness to share the message of nonprofits is invaluable, Burke says. “Huntington doing that is a great asset for us,” she says.
For more information, visit help4seniors.org.