Thursday, February 22 , 2018, 5:42 am | Fair 36º


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Report: Santa Barbara County’s Aging Population Faces Poverty, Health-Care Challenges

Santa Barbara County’s seniors are facing major issues, including food insecurity, poverty and access to health care, according to a report given to the Board of Supervisors.

The board took no action on the report given  this week by Barbara Finch on behalf of the Adult and Aging Network, who posed the question of whether the country is ready to meet the needs of a rapidly aging population.

Roughly 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 each day, a trend that will continue for the next 14 years, Finch said, and the number of seniors will increase 66 percent in Santa Barbara County by 2030.

Finch said 40 percent of Santa Barbara County seniors don’t have adequate financial resources to ensure a safe and healthy lifestyle. That includes basic needs such as housing, health care, food and transportation.

An elderly renter would need at least $28,000 a year in Santa Barbara County to cover those expenses, and many people come up short.

Hunger and food insecurity among elders is a growing concern, and one in four use meal and food support.

Most of those people are living on less than $15,000 a year, Finch said.

Health and safety is also a huge issue for seniors, with a high rate among them for using emergency room transports.

Finch said seniors accounted for almost half of total hospital transports last year, even though they only made up 14 percent of the total population.

Lack of geriatric mental-health services is also an issue. When St. Francis Hospital closed in 2003, the 14 geriatric psychiatric beds at the facility went with it, Finch said.

The Adult and Aging Network also recommended that an additional public health nurse be hired, since only one is available now to see clients throughout the county.

The county’s public health nurse, Nancy Allen, sees about 60 patients a month throughout the entire county, and the need for in-home visits will likely increase.

“It might be in a motel, a shelter or in someone’s home,” she said. “Our clients are complicated. Seniors have a lot of medical issues and that means our cases take a lot of time.”

Forty percent of referrals to adult protective services are because of self-neglect, she said. 

Allen described visiting patients who live in deplorable conditions, and noted that the population was a vulnerable one. A 88-year-old woman, one of her patients, was resistant to health care when the nurse arrived and hadn’t bathed in months.

“She said, ‘I can handle everything,’” Allen said.

It took time to gain the woman’s trust so that she could eventually seek medical care.

Without that, “I don’t know if that woman would be alive today,” Allen said.

Outside of county departments, increased demand but decreased or stagnant funding is making it harder for local community organizations to reach out to seniors.

With transportation, “seniors are not concentrated in particular neighborhoods,” Finch said, and distance to public transportation, prohibitive fees and schedules remain issues.

One transportation provider reported a large increase of seniors seeking transportation since the Affordable Care Act was implemented, as an influx of people sought transport to medical appointments.

The Community Action Commission prepares 150,000 meals a year for seniors, said head Fran Forman. The group distributes meals and asks for a $3 donation from seniors.

“Most are only able to contribute about 80 cents,” she said, adding that most of the seniors make less than $1,200 a month.

One of the supervisors who spoke was Steve Lavagnino, who said that caring for an 86-year-old family member has opened his eyes to the planning it takes to manage daily medications, doctors visits and the like.

“It’s a full-time job just to keep your life moving in the right direction,” he said, adding that he would support an additional nurse position at budget workshops next spring.

“To only have one in the whole county isn’t acceptable as far as I’m concerned,” he said.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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