By B. Adam Burke
North Liberty Leader
IOWA CITY– Livable Communities for Successful Aging, the Johnson County initiative that’s at the forefront of advancing issues on successful aging, held a Fall Celebration on Sept. 23 in Iowa City.
From 2000 to 2030, the county is expected to more than double the number of citizens over age 55, so it’s good news that Livable Communities is leading the charge to organize and develop welcoming programs for seniors.
The five-year-old Livable Communities program is advancing and organizing services for aging populations in health, housing, transportation, education, recreation, religion, employment and volunteering. The recent event was a chance to thank the Johnson County Board of Supervisors for creating the program and to show what had grown out of the initial plan on successful aging communities.
With the group’s mission to identify and address the needs of an aging population, the Fall Celebration was also chance to recognize team members who are pushing forward on seniors’ issues.
Mary Willie, Johnson County Livable Communities’ (JCLC) aging specialist, introduced action team and standing committees, groups that cover a wide range of issues including: Aging in Place (to help seniors remain in their homes); Communication; Housing; Transportation; Community Partners/Development (funding and fundraising); Fall Prevention (also known as Sure Steps); Plan Your Future (helps prepare for life transitions when facing illness and injury); and Visibility (serving lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender seniors in the county).
JCLC’s award-winning program has thrived on just $250,000 since its inception about five years ago. The board of supervisors created the 16-member JCLC Policy Board to provide leadership and address the needs of Johnson County residents aged 50 and older. The program grew out of a grassroots Consortium for Successful Aging in 2005 to become a “community collaboration to help every resident age successfully.”
Guest speaker Kent Sovern, the Iowa Director of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), told the crowd of over 100 that Johnson County and Iowa City “are ahead of the curve” on helping people maintain independent lifestyles through JCLC.
But for Dr. Brian Kaskie, a professor of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa (UI), “It’s not enough.”
Kaskie warned, “We’ve got a lot more to do” to prepare for the needs of our parents, grandparents and, ultimately, ourselves.
He said seniors want “flat housing” and older adults daycare (also called “daily living assistance”).
Dr. Kaskie, Associate Director of Public Policy at UI’s Center on Aging, said the main problem is that structural lag persists in services like health, housing and transportation. These could be addressed with capital investments and funding for programs to make aging easier, he said.
He also asked those in attendance to “elect one of your own” to push for legislative policies for elder and retired people.
Former action team member Richard Tibbetts of North Liberty was pleased with the Sept. 23 turnout. As a former director of the Johnson County AARP chapter, he said he was glad to see JCLC’s “energy and organization persists.” He’s worked with Larry Meister of Solon Senior Advocates to extend JCLC’s efforts to outside Iowa City and into the corridor area.
Community input was sought from the crowd using a wireless system that instantly tabulated votes and displayed them in a Power Point graph. Remote clickers were passed around the audience for the Fall Community Planning survey.
The survey asked about specific action items for housing, transportation and rural residents. Based on the votes, a new action team covering life transition decision-making may be considered to help seniors plan advanced care and living options, make decisions about giving up driving, and plan for retirement. JCLC may also establish a speakers’ bureau to make presentations to community groups.
The survey also asked for feedback on JCLC’s impact and effectiveness; mostly passing grades were given for JCLC’s progress in community awareness and developing partnerships and collaborations.
Seventy-five percent of those at the event were from outside of Iowa City and 33 percent were ages 56-65.
The event was hosted by board of supervisors chair Pat Harney. State senators Joe Bolkcom, Bob Dvorsky and Mary Mascher were also in attendance.
Johnson County seniors bring in almost $400 million in personal income (earned, unearned, and public payments) annually and of the county’s 24,256 residents age 55 and over, at least 14,000 were employed in 2010. Those 55 and over make up about 18.5 percent of the county’s total population. Over six percent of the county’s 52,715 households with a person 65 and older are living alone.
JCLC is seeking investments in the future through the Community Foundation of Johnson County at 325 E. Washington St. in Iowa City.