New York is fourth in the nation for the oldest population. Much like the rest of the state, Otsego County’s aging population is growing, with 26% of residents age 60 and older. The U.S. Census estimates that Otsego County’s aging population will continue to grow, with an expected increase of nearly 34% by 2030, during which time the Baby Boomer generation will fully reach the age of 65.
While the population is aging, Otsego County, along with the rest of Upstate New York, continues to see an out-migration of young adults leaving the county and state to seek better opportunities. These people are not only critical to the local workforce, but are also the informal support system necessary to support an aging population.
The growth of the older adult and disabled populations, compounded by the absence of, or inability of family to care for a loved one, has increased the demand for paid para-professionals. These para-professionals provide necessary assistance for daily living, such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation, household chores and transportation.
A large majority of people requiring long-term support prefer to receive such services in their own homes, as opposed to long term care facilities. That is also the most cost effective option, as the cost of nursing home care ranges anywhere from $8,000 to $10,000 a month, most often paid through local Medicaid (taxpayer) dollars.
Although New York continues to expand home-based programs and services to care for aging and disabled residents, the effectiveness is impeded by the lack of home care aides to provide this care.
Without an adequate number of caregivers, both paid and unpaid, many local agencies, including Office for the Aging, are challenged to meet the needs of older adults and individuals with disabilities. Consequently, those who are frail are either forced to move into nursing homes or remain in their homes without services, placing them at higher risk for falls, increased use of volunteer EMS and emergency departments, and further decline in health and well-being.
As unemployment rates increase, those out of work will hopefully look to home care as not only a way to earn an income, but also a rewarding way to give back to the community. Local organizations such as At Home Care Partners and U.S. Care Systems are consistently seeking motivated individuals to care for aging residents. It is essential that we as a community invest in our local workforce and seek opportunities to support home care professionals. In the same right, we also need to encourage and support family caregivers who often balance work, family and personal responsibilities to provide this care. They not only deserve it, but we have an obligation to support the elders in our community and ensure they receive adequate care.
Tamie Reed is the director of the Otsego County Office for the Aging.