Friday, December 18, 2020

Adirondack Communities: Developing Support Networks for an Aging Population 

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 the next few weeks we’ll be diving into the following topics:

  • 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

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Melissa is a journalist with experience as a reporter and editor with the Burlington Free Press, Ithaca Journal and Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. She worked as a communications specialist for the Adirondack North Country Association and is currently digital editor for Adirondack Explorer, overseeing both the Explorer's website and its community forum the Adirondack Almanack. She enjoys hiking, camping and other outdoors activities, and spending time with her husband, their twin daughters, and rescue animals -- two dogs and two cats.

10 Responses

  1. Joan Grabe says:

    This is another societal problem that lacks adequate funding. I am not sure that $14.00 an hour can attract as many trained home care workers as are needed even when these workers are paid while they are in training. And they must have adequate transportation so that they can travel the long distances between clients.
    But this is a problem we must confront as the will to age in place is very strong and so many long care facilities have had to bar visitors and reduce Programs due to Covid. Being at home seems healthier and safer these pandemic days but there are costs, isolation, loneliness and diminishing abilities that make elder care a necessity here in the North Country.

  2. Nicholas Rose says:

    Dont forget Adirondack Home Health Care in Old Forge

  3. Vanessa says:

    I agree with Joan – $14 per hour isn’t a lot of money for a skilled job. By my math that’s 30k a year or 2240 a month (before taxes). I think perhaps that would cover rent/mortgage and expenses in many places in the North Country, but Joan also correctly points out that this would be a job where transportation costs would be high. Does a facility pay for the gas to go out and see seniors?

    One thing my hometown had that was quite effective was a public transportation option exclusively for seniors, that went to places like a grocery store, community centers, library and health care centers. It was great for folks who were mobile but couldn’t drive anymore. It provided a great social benefit that folks could still get out and about. Library programming for seniors can be a huge community success (during times without social distancing). I’ve done such programs! Downton Abbey movie/costume night was LIT ?.

    And I hate to be such a progressive (not really), but good old fashioned state aid is needed. Grants to hire home healthcare workers and fund community centers, for one. Psychological support is also important. Grants for social workers make a great difference, who can take on exclusively mental health care instead of the often emotionally challenging tasks of support for folks who aren’t in good health.

  4. As some one who is 78 and counting, I don’t want any help.

  5. Tom Vawter says:

    The Community Transportation Service, with its volunteer drivers, provides free transportation from the Otter Lake, Old Forge, Inlet area to medical appointments in Utica and beyond, mostly for elderly residents,

  6. gabe susice says:

    home health aides are paid “mileage”, but 14 an hour your allways going to have staffing shortages. volunteers are great. in franklin co. there is public transport so that helps. aging in place is way more cost effective, sending some one out 2 hours aday
    compared to having same person in assisted living saves the tax payers huge amount of money. as most people cant or were to short sighted to plan for this.

  7. Eric says:

    The Golden Years have become more of a process than experience.

  8. Christine Njuki says:

    Hearing loss can lead to or worsen already present depression, anxiety and social isolation. Hearing care resources should be sought out to complement social isolation programs and preventative services noted above. Low cost alternatives to hearing aids such as personal amplifiers ($150ish) and hearing screenings to rule out more significant hearing loss should be considered and available.

  9. Pete says:

    $14/hour is not much for “skilled” labor. Even $20/hour is not all that much. But a lot of what is needed is not really skilled labor. It is a person to help with everyday activities or just to monitor someone who really can’t be left alone. In other words, the helper does not have to be a nurse or have advanced training of any kind. Family members do this all the time with no special skills or training It does not take any special training to make meals, give medications, do some basic housekeeping chores, keep the walk clear of snow, etc. Any nominally competent adult or even older teenager can do these things. In many cases, most of the time the ‘care-giver’ can be sitting reading, watching TV, etc. In short, while a home health aide has to be a reliable and responsible person, the job may be fairly easy. I am speaking from experience here, as I am doing this for my parents. It would not be that hard except that I am doing it virtually full time (unpaid) instead of working full time at my real job, since there is no help available at any price. By the way, $30K a year is not great, but not really that out of line for a semi-skilled job in the Adirondacks. There are a lot of people working for similar wages.

    • gabe susice says:

      pete, homehealth aides do not shovel snow for people, you have to be certified to dispense meds, you want some one you are paying, or in most instances the taxpayer is paying to help people get up out beds, chairs etc. with no training?
      there would be more lawsuits, compensation claims then you can imagine. its different when your not PAYING someone. also homehealth aides have training
      i think maybe you need to read up on home health aides and there job title. the way you talk about them maybe why you cant find one to help your parents, they are greatly appreciated by most people. i hope your parents are doing well.

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