Commission on Aging surveys seniors, others

Sue Guinn Legg • Mar 6, 2013 at 9:43 PM

The Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability conducted a regional town hall meeting at Johnson City’s Memorial Park Community Center Senior Center Wednesday to gather input from local seniors, their care givers and their service providers on the generation’s emerging issues and needs,

The meeting was part of statewide listening tour being conducted by the commission in preparation for a needs assessment report that will be forwarded to the governor and on to Washington this summer to help determine how limited state and federal funding for senior programming can best be put to use.

Commission Chairman Ken Kisiel said the needs assessment is required every four years to draw down funding provided primarily through the federal Older Americans Act. He said the report is “literally based on listening to people,” including seniors, their adult children who become their care givers, and stakeholders in the industries and programs that serve them.

Wednesday’s town hall gathering was the eighth of nine regional meetings to be held across the state and was impacted by snow and cold temperatures that caused groups from several other seniors centers in Tri-Cties area to cancel bus trips to Johnson City. Despite the weather, the meeting was well attended by regional service providers, including representatives from several programs administered by the First Tennessee Human Resource Agency to help area seniors maintain their independence, and the Area Agency on Aging and Disability which hosted the event.

Kathy Zumata, deputy director of the commission, encouraged those who were unable to attend and others who would like give their input to visit www.tn.gov/comaging and complete a survey to help identify needs and offer suggestions, or to contact the Area Agency on Aging at 928-3258 to obtain a copy of the survey to submit by mail.

Kisiel said the 2013 survey comes at “an interesting time,” when the oldest members of the Baby Boom generation are retiring and both the state and federal governments are without immediate funding to expand senior programs. “It’s interesting for this to be going on at the same time and it makes it doubly important to identify needs and gather ideas how we can pull together resources for new programs and alternate ways to provide services” he said

While the anticipated jump in senior population has not occurred since baby boomers began retiring three years ago, Kisiel said new trends are emerging, including new sets of skills the generation is bringing to the older population and, generally, their greater financial ability to pay for services.

Defined as those born between 1946 and 1964, Kisiel said. “The baby boomers have a long spread. There are lots of projections but by 2020 there should be a huge new number. We’re still early stage. We haven’t seen a huge jump. But it’s expected to rise quick.”

According to Kisiel, the key to providing services will be to bring together the resources of faith based organizations, senior centers, home health services, nursing homes, professional organizations and others involved in common areas of service such as transportation and nutrition.

Top issues identified in the commission’s survey of the service provider heavy crowd at Wednesday’s meeting included exercise and diet as the most important factors for maintaining good health while aging; respite as the top issue for home care givers; quicker access to services and transportation as the most important factors to maintaining independence; and opportunities to meet people and make new friends as the most important factor to staying connected and involved in the community.

Zumata said quicker, easier access to services has been a leading issue identified by surveys conducted across the state and has lead the commission to begin work on a new “No Wrong Door” system through which everyone in senior programming, health care and other service sectors will be educated on who to call for assistance

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