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Silver Tsunami facing reduced state aging agencies

JOHNSON COUNTY- Facing continued increases in Iowa’s aging population, legislators earlier this year tasked the Iowa Department of Aging (IDA) with developing a plan to consolidate elder service providers that contract with the state.
The state law mandates the reduction of aging agencies in the state. Aging agencies were started as part of the federal Older Americans Act in 1965.
Currently, 13 Area Aging Agencies (AAAs) serve elder populations in Iowa. An IDA proposal shows six agencies standing by the legislative deadline July 1, 2012.
As some numbers decrease, others multiply, and that concerns those who serve the area’s older residents.
From 2000 to 2010, as statewide numbers of 55-64 year-old residents grew by about 45 percent, Johnson County’s 55-64 year-old population almost doubled, booming from 6,595 to 13,045.
Bob Welsh, who chairs the Johnson County Consortium on Successful Aging, calls the population explosion “a silver tsunami” and sees many challenges ahead for aging Iowans and their service providers.
He’s worried that the IDA’s plan “only changes the sign on the door. This would hardly lead to any efficiency…but would achieve reduction of area agencies in name only.”
Currently, Johnson County is served by Heritage Area Agency on Aging (HAAA), which also provides services in Benton, Iowa, Linn, Jones, Cedar and Washington counties. Aging agencies provide services such as home-delivered meals, elder abuse prevention, adult daycare, senior dining meal sites, volunteer transportation, and caregiver support.
In west-central Iowa, Elderbridge Agency already serves 20 counties with administrative headquarters in Mason City, and field offices in Fort Dodge and Carroll. This redundancy has some questioning the new law’s mandate to cut agencies because shuffling offices might change titles and names only. Welsh is also concerned that, since HF 45 did not set aside any additional funds for the state’s reduction in AAAs, lack of money will impact elder services in the state.
Welsh introduced IDA director Donna Harvey at her event, “A Conversation on Aging Issues,” in Coralville on July 11. At the event, Harvey told the audience, “My belief is, for the consumer, nothing is going to happen. For the triple As and state department, there’s a lot of work to be done between now and then.”
Harvey said she’d like to present a plan to the legislature before the scheduled date of Dec. 15, 2011, to the standing committees on human resources of the Iowa Senate and House, as well as the joint appropriations subcommittee on health and human services by Dec. 15.
Near the end of the Coralville event, Welsh told Harvey the IDA “needs to take more seriously its advocacy. Your responsibility, according to your web site, is to review and comment on all state plans, budgets and policies that affect seniors…The department needs to not merely be the Department of the Older Americans Act, but the Department on Aging.”
On the first of the IDA’s proposed maps, Heritage would not add counties to its reach. On another map, Heritage would add four counties westward under its umbrella.
HAAA director Ingrid Wensel said her agency, like other AAAs in the state, is focused on providing “seamless service” to clients before and after the transition and consolidation.
IDA chief Harvey finished her listening tour of the state on Aug. 11 in Madson City and Webster City. Her department plans to conduct similar conversations throughout the state annually.
The IDA has an annual budget of almost $30 million; $17.7 million federal and $12 million from the state.
Residents can email ideas for the IDA’s restructuring to aging.conversations@iowa.gov.