As Johnson County’s aging population grows, community leaders brainstorm solutions at forum

Leah Wankum - October 24, 2019 8:00 am
Johnson County community leaders and residents discussed the challenges of aging services in a community forum on Monday. Photo credit Pam Shernuk

While Johnson County leaders anticipate exponential growth of the county’s senior population, community leaders are brainstorming ways to address the needs of aging residents.

The Johnson County Commission on Aging led a community forum on Monday to discuss the challenges and opportunities of providing services to this growing segment of the county population.

“We were so thrilled that over a hundred people attended the aging services forum,” said Karen Weber, chair of the Johnson County Commission on Aging.

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In attendance included representatives from the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners, county management staff and members of the community. Weber said the participants brought “a broad range of knowledge and experience related to aging issues and aging services.”

“We felt like we had a great cross-section of the communities’ involvement,” she added.

During the community forum, participants broke off into groups to discuss four program areas that identify challenges and opportunities for the aging population, including nutrition, transportation, in-home support and services, and public awareness and visibility of the services offered by the Johnson County Area Agency on Aging.

Residents and leaders in aging services discussed challenges in nutrition, transportation and in-home support during the forum. Photo credit Pam Shernuk

Weber said the purpose of the forum was to provide an opportunity for participants to brainstorm and discuss how to increase and improve the services that are offered to the 60+ population in Johnson County.

“What we really are addressing here is the rapidly growing 60+ population in Johnson County,” Weber said. “We want to help get ahead of the curve and make sure that we serve the older population well so that Johnson County continues to be the great place to live that it is today.”

By 2030, of the 703,000 people living in Johnson County, about 171,000 residents, or 24% of the county population, will be 60+ years of age, according to the Johnson County Commission on Aging.

With this statistic at the forefront of everyone’s minds, Weber said two critical needs drove the discussions at the community forum: the needs of the county’s Meals on Wheels program and in-home supports and services.

At 1,300 square feet and serving more than 9,600 older residents, the kitchen is already at service capacity, she said.

Besides that, Weber said they anticipate losing the kitchen for the Meals on Wheels program by 2022. Acquiring a new kitchen with 5,000 square feet would alleviate some of the stresses on the program and increase its service capacity.

“We believe that we could serve more residents now with the Meals on Wheels program, and we’re confident that 10 years from now, as this segment of our population continues to increase, we’re certain that there will be more service demands for type of service specifically,” Weber said.

Discussions regarding the need for in-home supports and services focused mainly on the costs and opportunities for residents to age in place. This could mean installing grab bars in bathrooms to make it safer for seniors to use.

Utilizing support staff for assistance in bathrooms and with medication management is also significantly more cost effective than the cost of skilled nursing care, for both residents and public entities providing the support.

“We know that it costs about $200 a month to provide in-home supports and services through our Senior Care Act, and about $3,000 a month if the resident needs to move into the nursing home,” Weber said.

Weber said she believes the community forum accomplished its purpose, with positive and productive reports coming from each of the participating groups. The Johnson County Commission on Aging will review the reports and consolidate the information with data collected from nearly a dozen focus groups, in order to identify recommendations for steps forward.

The commission will then include those recommendations in the Johnson County Aging Service Master Plan for 2020-2030 and present that plan to the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners for review and consideration at a future date.