Each week we provide a member of the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners the opportunity to share an update on what issues are catching their attention. This week, we have a column from District 4 Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick, whose district includes much of central Overland Park.
Johnson County is a great place to raise kids, but, as Francesca Johnson asks in The Bridges of Madison County, is it a good place to raise adults? As a county commissioner, I want to make sure that Johnson County is a great place for everyone, including the rapidly growing number of seniors who want nothing more than to age in place. In just 20 years, the number of adults over 65 will more than double to nearly 25% of the county’s population. The “graying” of our community presents a huge challenge, as well as an opportunity. To support this new generation of senior citizens, we must find ways to strengthen policies and programs for older adults, especially in the areas of housing, transportation, and mental wellness.
Housing: I have heard from many older adults that their major worry is the ability to physically and financially remain in their own homes as long as possible. While the Johnson County Human Services and Aging Department offers in-home care, nutrition services, and home rehabilitation programs, these services are not able to meet current needs, let alone increased demand. Priorities for our community should include strengthening existing services, seeking ways to reduce the property tax burden on low-income seniors, advocating for increased property tax relief through the state’s Homestead Refund and SAFESR programs, working with builders and developers to expand diverse and affordable housing options, and participating in metro-wide programs to build age-friendly communities.
Transportation: Seniors need affordable transit options to help them maintain their independence. In Johnson County, adults 65+ are eligible for reduced bus fares, and senior transit through Catch-a-Ride and RideKC Freedom. As the county commission considers priorities for investing in our transit system, I am advocating that we concentrate resources on transportation for vulnerable populations, especially seniors and people with physical and developmental disabilities, as well as people who require public transit to reach their jobs, health care, nutritious food, and human services.
Mental Wellness and Social Inclusion: Aging adults who have friends and social activities are more likely to be physically and mentally healthy than seniors who are isolated and alone. Drop by the Matt Ross Community Center in Overland Park on any weekday and you’ll find seniors enjoying a low-cost meal, playing cards, and laughing with friends. Matt Ross is the site of one of six senior centers operated by the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging (AAA). The AAA also operates the only home-delivered meals program in Johnson County funded through the federal Older Americans Act. This Meals on Wheels service not only delivers nutritious food to home-bound seniors, but also ensures that a volunteer regularly interacts with people living alone. Seniors also benefit from supportive services through the Johnson County Mental Health Center – programs that could be strengthened by Medicaid expansion in Kansas. Ensuring that aging adults have ongoing access to opportunities for social interaction, meaningful activities, and mental health care must be part of our plans for Johnson County’s future.
As a baby boomer, social worker, county commissioner, and the liaison to the Johnson County Commission on Aging, I want to make sure that Johnson County is a great place for people to retire and grow old – knowing that they can remain in their homes as long as possible, access affordable transit, and stay socially engaged. I look forward to helping create a healthy future for senior citizens and all Johnson County residents.
**For information on senior services in Johnson County, call the Area Agency on Aging at 913-715-8861. For volunteer opportunities, visit this page on the county’s website.