Surry County is getting older, and officials aren’t ready for it, according to one senior care administrator.
The issue? People are living longer and funding to cover the additional elderly population is dwindling, according to Bob Cleveland, aging program planner for the Piedmont Triad Regional Council’s Area Agency on Aging.
“There are two agencies, YVEDDI and the county’s health and nutrition center, who provide things like in-home aide, meals, transportation and senior centers,” Cleveland said. “Right now, they’re seeing a decrease in funding because for the last year and a half the county has been dealing with sequester cuts. To add insult to injury, the county is losing an additional $25,000 a year as a result of the fact that that other counties are seeing the older adult population grow faster than Surry County. It’s a reallocation of funds due to the 2010 census.”
Although some other counties are aging a little faster, the fact is Surry County is seeing an increase in the elderly population, Cleveland said.
“It’s definitely growing,” he said. “In 1990, the entire senior population in Surry County was about 12,500. As of 2010, there were about 17,000 and by 2030 its going to be closer to 23,000.”
With that growth, Cleveland said it is imperative that the county start discussing how to provide for the needs of the elderly.
“We’re living longer but we’re living longer with chronic conditions and that’s creating a strain on the system,” he said. “And there are fewer caregivers available.”
In 1990, there were 17 potential caregivers (family, friends and others willing to care for the elderly) for each senior needing care. In 2010, that number had dropped to six.
Meanwhile, in 1990 there were four elderly people for each nursing home bed. In 2010, that number had increased to six, and by 2030 it is estimated that number will climb to nine.
“We have fewer beds available and fewer caregivers available,” Cleveland said. “Do we need to build more nursing homes or fund more services? We need to do both. It’s far less expensive to keep people in their homes and provide them services than to place them in a nursing home.”
This year, Surry County is spending $680,211 on services like caregiver support, in-home aide, nutrition and transportation for 700 county seniors.
The number accounts for only 6 percent of the funding for seniors.
“Ninety-four percent of the money, $11 million, went to medicaid payments for 452 seniors to stay in nursing homes in the county,” Cleveland said. “It’s absolutely crazy. I’m not only an advocate for seniors, I’m a taxpayer, and it’s clear there is a problem when we’re able to serve more than 700 seniors and keep them in their homes and to serve just over half of that number it took $11 million (in nursing homes).
“How many of those people don’t need that level of nursing care?” He asked. “How many of those people would be able to stay in their homes if they had meals or in-home care provided?”
He called the situation a “crisis.”
“We’re already behind the eight ball,” Cleveland said. “There is an explosive growth in aging and we’re serving fewer people now at a time when people asking for help.
“This is crazy. It is backwards,” he added. “We really need to start having this conversation. There is an inequity in pouring Medicaid dollars to keep people in nursing homes while we’re spending less on keeping people in their own homes.”
Keith Strange can be reached at 336-719-1929 or via Twitter @strangereporter.