A shortage of affordable housing options, doctors and services are challenges Frederick County must tackle to serve a senior population that is expected to double by 2030, according to a sweeping report released this week.
While many programs and services already exist for the county's older residents, needs are piling up faster than the resources, the Needs Assessment of the Aging Population in Frederick County report concludes. Seniors who are frail, poor, or living in isolated areas are at the highest risk of falling through the cracks.
"Services and supports for the most vulnerable older residents are overwhelmed," the document states. "The Department of Aging and the larger provider community are confronted with insufficient funds even to meet the needs of today's seniors, which portends a crisis as the older population doubles."
County commissioners reviewed the $50,000 report during their meeting Thursday.
A Baltimore company, JustPartners Inc., began preparing the county-commissioned assessment in early March, according to a county staff report. The consultants gathered information from local officials and service providers and analyzed input from more than 1,000 county residents.
The report looked at housing, transportation, in-home services, health care, community involvement, economic opportunities and outreach.
Carolyn True, who directs the county's Department of Aging, said the document's pages contain few surprises. However, the facts and figures it generated will back up efforts to launch new programs and seek out grant funding, she said.
"Now, we've got some concrete documentation to show what we've seen in the field for a long time," she said.
Among the findings of the 124-page report:
n The county planning department predicts that the county will need group-living space to accommodate 6,248 people by 2030, but currently has only 1,810 spots in local assisted living centers and nursing homes.
n 109 people were on the Meals on Wheels waiting list in June 2013.
n About 400 local residents are in line for a Medicaid waiver that provides funds for a number of long-term senior services.
n There are not enough local physicians, particularly those who specialize in geriatric issues, and many local doctors do not accept Medicare or Medicaid patients.
n 18 percent of surveyed county residents said they skimp on meals or skip them altogether to save money.
n 25 percent of the survey respondents reported inability to pay for dental care, while 22 percent couldn't afford health care.
Despite the issues documented in the assessment, the growing senior population also presents ample opportunities, the report's authors said.
Seniors are "the fastest-growing natural resource the county has," said Paula Dressel, vice president of JustPartners.
Not only do older adults have spending power, but they can be business innovators and strengthen a community's volunteer efforts. The assessment made a wide range of recommendations for local government, nonprofit groups, service providers and the business community.
"Government cannot do it all," said Jane King, a project leader with JustPartners.
The report recommended forming public-private partnerships to address some of the needs for affordable housing, new businesses and additional community-based services. Expanding volunteerism will also be important in preparing for the future.
JustPartners representatives applauded the county for ordering the assessment, saying only a third of communities nationwide have taken similar steps. The report was funded mainly through a federal Community Development Block Grant, though the county contributed about $1,000, True said.
True said her department will use the assessment to develop recommendations for commissioners.
Commissioner Paul Smith said the report affirms some actions the board has taken, such as voting to sell Citizens Care and Rehabilitation Center and Montevue Assisted Living. The report mentions that most seniors would prefer to stay at home rather than shifting to an institutional setting. Smith said the county can use money freed up by selling the two facilities to invest in programs that will benefit a wider cross section of seniors and allow them to age in place.
However, Joseph Berman, an opponent of selling the facilities, said he wishes commissioners had completed such an assessment before they decided to privatize Citizens and Montevue. He said he hopes the commissioners will give careful consideration to the assessment and develop an action plan based on its findings.
Follow Bethany Rodgers on Twitter: @BethRodgersFNP.