A report commissioned by a private non – profit suggests that seniors in the Matanuska Susitna Borough are not getting adequate access to care facilities. As KSKA’s Ellen Lockyer reports, many of the Borough’s small town senior care centers are banding together to help cut costs and facilitate deliveries, but those efforts are not enough in the face of a rapidly growing senior citizen population.
The Mat Su Health Foundation, along with other agencies, commissioned the McDowell Group report. The McDowell Group’s assessment indicates that not only is Mat Su’s senior population growing at a rate five times the national average, the area’s huge geographical size makes delivery of services to seniors a challenge.
Elizabeth Ripley is executive director of the Mat Su Health Foundation, a non profit that is a part owner and operator of the Mat Su Regional Medical Center.
“We didn’t just look at the community based services provided by the senior centers. Even though the senior center issues were sort of the reason for the genesis for this report, we looked beyond just that slice of the continuum of care. We looked at all the services seniors might partake of in the health care and the housing kind of realm. So I think that is one of the strengths of the report.”
The report, released in February of 2011, is titled the Mat Su Regional Plan for Delivery of Senior Services. Ripley says it could provide a template for senior services all over the state.
The state of Alaska spends more money on community based services than do most states, paying for roughly 51 percent of senior services, compared with 25 percent nationally, according to the McDowell report. Yet it costs more than average to serve seniors in the furthest away communities in the Mat Su, such as Willow, than it would in a central location like Anchorage. Mat Su’s 89,000 – strong population is spread out over 24,000 square miles, an area about the size of West Virginia. Its rural nature and proximity to Anchorage medical services entices retirees.
“Mat Su is one of the only places in the state of Alaska where the in migration of seniors is greater than the out migration of seniors. So we have more seniors moving in and retiring in Mat Su than are leaving. And I think that one huge driver of that is our proximity to Anchorage. The other piece that is driving it is that we are seeing seniors move here from out of state to be here with their children.”
Rachel Greenberg, deputy director of Mat Su Senior Services in Palmer, says Mat Su has shown an incredible 117.3 percent growth since the 2000 census. And the senior population is up more than 71 percent since then. Greenberg says that growth is strapping senior budgets all around.
“If you look at both congregate meals and home delivered meals, we’ve seen an increase of 11 percent between fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2012. It’s pretty phenomenal and that was just over one year.”
Congregate, or communal meals are up 15 percent this year, and meals on wheels are up 9 percent, Greenberg says. And donations for those meals are down, according to officials at Palmer’s senior center. Greenberg says Seniors don’t have enough spare cash these days to drop a dollar or two into the donation box.
“What we are finding is that seniors are relying on our meal program and our transportation program more and more, because their income remains fixed, while all the other costs have gone up. “
Mat Su Senior Services’ transportation budget is spent on bringing seniors to centers to eat meals together, since the philosophy is to keep seniors in independent homes as long as possible, but bring them to the center for social connections.
The 2010 census shows over 11,000 people over the age of 60 in the Mat Su Borough. The McDowell report says indications are that by 2030 the number of Mat Su seniors aged 64 – 75 will double what it is now, and those aged 76- 84 will triple.
The state of Alaska, although generous with it’s share of senior care dollars, adheres to a financial structure that does not foster cooperation among the various elder care organizations, according to Elizabeth Ripley
“The way the state system is set up, the system operates on a competitive, not a collaborative model. The way that the grants are funded and applied for, drives competition as opposed to collaboration.”
Ripley says there are no defined service areas, so some senior care organizations provide meals in areas covered by other senior centers, angling for a state reimbursement. On top of that, the state lumps Mat Su in with the Kenai and Valdez-Cordova areas as one service region. Region 5’s senior population is up an incredible 98 percent since the 2000 census. The report calls for a re-examination of the state funding formula, as well as a separately defined Mat Su region of Aging and Disability Resource Center funding. ADRC’s are a conduit for federal and state dollars aimed at senior needs. There are four of them in Alaska now.
Local efforts have been ongoing to deal with the challenges to senior care. In 2006, the Coalition of Mat Su Senior Centers was organized, in an effort to pool the resources of Palmer, Wasilla and other small townd in the Borough. Rachel Greenberg:
“We needed to work more efficiently together. So we are looking at collaborating on different grants. If you have one grant, instead of three potentially or instead of six, then you have one grant manager, one grant writer, one person doing all the reporting. “
Greenberg says most Mat Su seniors centers are banding with a state wide coalition of senior service providers to encourage legislative support. Mat Su Health Foundation’s Elizabeth Ripley says no action has been taken yet to ask for legislative funding for the regional plan, although the Foundation plans to take a leadership role in getting the plan implemented. Ripley says the state has taken $30,000 allocated to Kenai’s ADRC and set it aside for planning for a Mat Su ADRC.