As Ashe County’s aging population continues to rise, new services (like 2-1-1) have fulfilled a set of five-year goals established in 2008 to serve senior citizens in the area.
“Our aging population continues to grow, and the need for services becomes greater and greater,” said Patricia Calloway, the executive director of Ashe Services for Aging (ASFA).
To guarantee Ashe County is equipped with the necessary services for the area’s aging population, the Ashe County Aging Leadership Planning Team was formed. The team included public officials, service providers, the medical community and older adults.
In 2008, the team compiled a report for the county called the “Ashe County Aging Plan,” which highlighted several county needs.
Using a methodology including surveys, community meetings, focus groups and interviews, the Aging Leadership Planning Team identified 10 initiatives for Ashe County.
Rather than focus on all 10 initiatives, four were selected for immediate action from 2008-2013. They included: information and assistance, assistance for caregivers, transportation, and housing. These four initiatives were selected because they address urgent/critical needs, and are doable.
The information and assistance initiative was recently fulfilled with the establishment of the 2-1-1 service, a universal telephone number for human and social services.
The goal of this initiative was to make sure community members know what services and programs are available and understand how to access them in order to live an independent lifestyle.
Focus groups and surveys from 2008 revealed that many people do not know about available services or how to access them. The 2-1-1 service is a one-stop-shop for information about local services.
Another initiative accomplished by the Aging Leadership Planning Team was for Ashe County’s family caregivers to have access to a wide range of supportive services.
According to the N.C. Division of Aging and Adult Services in 2008, at least 80 percent of the long-term care for older adults is provided by family caregivers. Some 1.7 million adults in North Carolina are caring for an older disabled person; more than 28 percent of the population.
The High Country Family Caregiver Foundation offers training and information to family caregivers in the High Country, and those services have been expanded to Ashe County through the Ashe Expansion Committee.
Also, a support group for family caregivers is being offered at Forest Ridge Assisted Living, and another support group is planned for ASFA, according to Calloway.
In addition, special BBQ lunches for caregivers are planned for July 18 at Riverview Community Center and July 31 at ASFA. These “family caregiver appreciation lunches” welcome any caregivers in Ashe County.
“Events like that are examples of ways we try to help family caregivers in Ashe County,” said Calloway.
Another important initiative from the Ashe County Aging Plan was accessible transportation to improve mobility, employment opportunities, and access to needed services for all persons without transportation.
Information gathered in 2008 revealed that affordable and accessible transportation was one of the top concerns expressed by community members, especially those living in outlying areas of Ashe County.
“Lack of transportation during evening and weekend hours was notable. The cost of out-of-county transportation is a barrier at times to receiving medical services,” read the Ashe County Aging Plan.
“We do work with the transportation authority,” said Calloway. According to her, ASFA provides shuttle tickets for several Ashe residents.
Also, ASFA provides transportation through their own services, like the adult daycare service. ASFA also provide home delivered meals and home aid services to assist seniors without access to transportation.
Affordable housing was the final initiative highlighted in the aging plan.
The goal set in 2008 was for Ashe County residents to have information and access to quality, affordable housing regardless of income. Also, that residents have access to housing programs to assist with needed repairs and maintenance for low income and moderate income residents.
“With current housing and land costs, many residents cannot afford housing or do not have information or access needed to become homeowners or renters,” read the aging plan.
“We haven’t made a lot of progress as far as housing is concerned,” said Calloway.
“When this was developed (the aging plan), we were at the height of the market,” said Calloway. However, she said prices in the housing market have decreased over the last five years, making housing more affordable.
Aside from setting goals, the Ashe County Aging Plan also calculated how much the county’s population will age over the next 17 years.
The research compiled in 2008 indicates the following:
-As of 2008, 46 percent of Ashe County’s population is over the age of 45.
-As of 2008, 24 percent of the population is over the age of 60.
-By 2020, Ashe County is expected to rise to fifth in North Carolina in percentage of persons over 65 years of age.
-By 2020, 29.5 percent of our population will be over the age of 66.
-The over-85 population is Ashe County’s fastest growing segment. “Its growth is particularly important for anticipating health care and assistance needs,” read the aging plan.