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Group identifies key issues for seniors

Fri., Oct. 7, 2005

Better transportation, happier caregivers and less paperwork to access health and social services are among the goals of an effort to improve the lives of senior citizens living in North Idaho.

With the deadline looming to apply for a $750,000 grant, the North Idaho Linkages effort has settled on the initiatives it will champion in its grant application to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Seven key areas are the focus of the grant application and were developed from a series of focus group meetings, surveys and town hall meetings over the last several months. The planning effort was funded with a planning grant from the foundation, one of 11 that were awarded from a field of 500 community applicants.

“This is community based,” said Bob Salsbury, coordinator of the project. “This isn’t something we sat in our offices and dreamed up.”

The final cut was reached after participants in town hall meetings around North Idaho voted on priorities that emerged out of the focus groups and surveys, and will be submitted with the grant application by Nov. 1. The winners were:

•An integrated case management system to reduce paperwork and get all people involved in caring for an elderly person communicating with one another and coordinating their efforts.

A pilot project is planned for Boundary County, where doctors, social workers and caregivers will all be involved in planning for an elderly patient’s discharge from the hospital.

“Someone who’s giving care needs to be involved in the conversation,” Salsbury said.

•Reduction in turnover of paid caregivers. Direct caregivers are often underpaid and underappreciated, so North Idaho Linkages is trying to find a way to keep them satisfied on the job.

One idea is providing more training and instruction for all direct caregivers, said Michelle Wood, director of A Full Life Agency, which employs nearly 300 personal caregivers in North Idaho.

“The issue of wages and health benefits is definitely always going to be an issue,” she said. “There just are not enough dollars out there … to make us competitive with even manufacturing jobs.”

But perhaps North Idaho Linkages could help the caregivers form a network they could turn to for support and a platform to get their own health benefits, Wood and Salsbury said.

•Expanded and improved 211 resource hotline. The number is supposed to provide one-stop shopping for social and health services in Idaho, but the phone line lacks a lot of information for seniors in North Idaho, Salsbury said.

•Better outreach to seniors to identify those who need support.

•Reduce or eliminate the risk of exploitation of seniors.

•Encourage businesses to become “elder-friendly.”

•Address transportation needs of seniors.

In nearly every county, the transportation issue attracted the most attention, but Aging and Adult Services Director Pearl Bouchard said more study is needed on exactly what’s needed.

The issue of senior housing attracted little interest from surveys, focus groups or town meetings.

“Maybe taxes are a bigger issue to them than actual housing,” surmised Michelle Britton, regional director for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare. Britton predicts that issue will eventually emerge.

“As a community, we’re still not very future-oriented about what kind of impact the baby boom will have,” she said.


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