The Adirondack population is rapidly getting older. By 2030, according to projections from the New York State Office for the Aging, more than one third of the population in most North Country counties will be over the age of 60. New York State itself ranks fourth in the nation in the number of adults over 60. And state-wide the fastest growing population is over 85. For the remote towns and villages of the Adirondack region, this represents a challenge and an opportunity.
Even as the population is aging the number of home health care aides in the region has declined. Just 10 years ago North Country Home Services (NCHS), the only home health care staffing agency in the Adirondack region, had about 350 aides on its payroll. Today they are down to just 200. This means many seniors are not getting the care they need. Every week, 1,000 hours of home health services mandated by Medicaid or Medicare go unfilled. The onus typically falls on family members, friends, or volunteers, which can add to financial stress and insecurity. Or it manifests itself in the form of costly emergency room visits straining the health care system and other resources.
Despite the shortage in home health care aides there is a statewide push to age in place rather than expand the network of skilled nursing facilities. But in order for this approach to work the number of home health aides in the region and services for seniors, who often face social isolation and difficulty accessing transportation, will need to grow dramatically.
Home health care work is challenging. It does not typically pay well. You have to have reliable transportation and be willing to travel long distances year-round. But the work can also be rewarding, and local nonprofits and state agencies are working to draw attention to the crisis. This spring North Country Home Services raised its hourly wage to $14/hour and, for the first time, began paying those who attend the agency’s three- to five-week training session. Sixteen new aides completed the most recent training session and NCHS executive director Becky Leahy attributes the higher enrollment numbers to the payment offer and the promise of a better hourly wage.
In order to meet the challenges of a growing elderly population we must recognize the importance of an aging demographic to Adirondack communities and the regional economy. Elderly residents contribute socially, economically, and philanthropically. Assisted living facilities can also help to bolster local economies. Offices of the Aging in the North Country have and will continue to play a crucial role in providing services across the region.
Here are some programs that help to meet the needs of our aging population in the Adirondacks:
Converting an old school
Champlain Valley Senior Community in Willsboro, owned and operated by a local family, opened its doors in 2013. With a grant from the USDA the owners were able to convert and restore the old Willsboro School, which would have otherwise been torn down and is now on the national historic register. CVSC has 68 employees, is nearly at capacity, and has become an economic engine for the community.
Homeward Bound: Bringing Healthcare Home
This newer program in the greater Glens Falls area offers primary care services in the home for older patients who may be unable to travel. A team of nurses and doctors works with patients and their primary care providers to bring needed services to the home. Among the services provided are routine and acute visits, physical exams, palliative care, advance care planning, health maintenance and diagnostic testing.
Mercy Care for the Adirondacks
Established in 2007, Mercy Care, through its network of volunteers seeks to enhance the lives of elders in the Tri Lakes region. A nonprofit, Mercy Care has developed a unique program that connects elderly adults with “friendship volunteers” who can help to combat social isolation and bridge some of the gaps in social service programming. Mercy Care’s growth over the last decade is a testament to its success and the demand region wide for more robust elderly care networks. Mercy Care now has a satellite office in Malone and is working on establishing a tool kit for creating similar programs in other rural areas.
Senior Planet North Country Initiative
Offers technology classes, lectures and workshops, weekly film series, one-on one tech help, and social engagement for seniors. An offshoot of the Older Adults Technology Services program, Senior Planet offers classes in Plattsburgh and Malone as well as in person training to residents of Clinton and Franklin Counties unable to access onsite programs. Helps to combat social isolation and provide connections to services and programming. (Now offering virtual programming through the pandemic.)
What would you add to the list? Leave a comment below!
About this series:
The Adirondack Explorer/Adirondack Almanack is partnering with Adirondack Foundation to shine a light on unmet needs in the region as well as highlight promising efforts to address them. This special series was inspired by the Foundation’s 2019 report “Meeting the Needs of Adirondack Communities.” To learn more, visit adirondackfoundation.org/
- Support for Working Families
- Developing Support Networks for an Aging Population
- Expanding Affordable Housing and Rental Options+
- Increasing Opportunities for Professional Skills Development and Workforce Training
- Creating Pathways to Post Secondary Education
- Providing Options for Drug Addiction Treatment, Recovery, and Prevention
- Improving Transportation Networks
Home health aide Lisia Colegrove serves breakfast to client Thomas Wells. Photo by Mike Lynch