The completion of Connecticut’s State Plan on Aging could not come at a better time. We have seen first-hand the strengths and weaknesses in how and where our steadily growing aging population is cared for, and more urgently than ever are in the midst of making decisions with both societal and personal ramifications.
Even as much of state government’s attention must rightly be focused on pressing systemic issues upon us here and now, it is just as important that we proceed effectively with a planning process that is not only required by federal law, but in the best interests of Connecticut’s aging residents and their families. That deadline is fast approaching.
Connecticut is in the final stages of developing the state’s next strategic plan, outlining how best to serve our older residents. Each state develops its own plan, which sets direction for a three-year period. The document, as a neighboring state described it, “lays a foundation for shaping the policy development, administration, coordination, priority setting, and evaluation of State activities.” It “serves as a valuable tool and blueprint in disseminating programs, services and opportunities to support a comprehensive and coordinated system for serving elders and their caregivers.”
Connecticut’s current plan ends on September 30, and a successor framework should be approved and ready to be implemented beginning October 1. It is to be submitted to the federal government for review and approval just weeks from now.
Driving that process, the numbers are both daunting and inescapable. Connecticut is getting older, and quickly – and so is our nation. The current growth of the population ages 65 and older is unprecedented. The number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and their share of the total population will rise from 16 percent to 23 percent.
The current state plan has been the state’s blueprint for the delivery of elderly services since October 2017. Since then, the senior population has increased further, and Connecticut is the 7th oldest state in the nation. Predictions persist that by 2025, one in five Connecticut residents will be 65 years of age or older.
A report by the state legislature’s Commission on Aging in 2015 noted that “nationally, about 9 in 10 older adults want to ‘age in place,’ or stay in their homes and communities as they grow older, a lifestyle choice that has important political, developmental, economic, and social implications for the region and state.”
We’ve all now seen first-hand the benefits of being at home, and working from home, in ways we may never have considered previously. So it is no wonder that a steadily increasing share of older residents would prefer to age in place, rather than relocating to assisted living or nursing home facilities. They may require a helping hand with various aspects of daily life, but have concluded that the benefits of home outweigh the challenges that come with aging. That trend was evident prior to the coronavirus pandemic; it is likely to accelerate.
The State Unit on Aging, within the Department of Aging and Disability Services, has responsibility to ensure that “Connecticut’s elders have access to the supportive services necessary to live with dignity, security, and independence. The unit is responsible for planning, developing, and administering a comprehensive and integrated service delivery system for older persons in Connecticut.”
Any plan is only as good as the information upon which it is based – which is why a wide range of input, from experts in the field to families on the frontlines, is essential. It was a different world when five “Community Conversations” were conducted by state officials at the start of the year. Subsequently, early in the pandemic, Gov. Lamont declared by Executive Order that home care is an essential service. Subsequently, he initiated an independent investigation into the prevalence of coronavirus in nursing homes.
In recent weeks, the Department produced a 69-page draft document. The final version should be informed by what we have seen, heard, experienced and learned during the past few years and the past four months, including the array of disproportionate impacts on underserved communities and the upcoming findings in the nursing home inquiry.
A generation ago, in 1963, only 17 million living Americans had reached their 65th birthday. With that age group now more than three times larger and increasing still, the imperative for effective planning should be front and center — especially in Connecticut.
Bernard Kavaler is Managing Principal of Express Strategies, a public relations firm in Connecticut.