Aging is Nick Beamer’s passion, which makes his retirement last week after nearly 28 years as executive director of Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington an interesting juxtaposition for a man who now must live what he’s preached.
It’s his turn to live longer, healthier and remain in his home – the very goal of the five-county agency that provides a myriad of services for seniors 60 and older and younger people with disabilities.
The agency, with its $12.5 million budget of state, local and federal money, served about 10,500 people last year. Its contractors fielded about 20,000 phone calls. It has 35 volunteers plus another 40 who help answer people’s questions about health coverage including Medicaid and Medicare.
Beamer, a Spokane native who this summer celebrated his 50th reunion with his Lewis and Clark High School class, believes the agency is strong and will continue to find innovative ways to help families caring for older adults or people with disabilities stay at home – even in light of frozen federal funding, unreliable state money and inflation.
“I want it to be here when I need services when I’m 85,” Beamer said with a laugh. Then he acknowledged the true possibility.
Yet in baby boomer fashion, Beamer, 69, is in good health and fitness, he isn’t yet worried about staying in his home or maintaining his independence.
He will spend a few days of retirement lounging, enjoying not showing up to the Post Street office and attending meetings. Then he plans to develop his digital photography skills and travel south with his wife to national parks such as Arches and the Grand Canyon. He’s looking for a camper or RV that’s tall enough for him to stand up. Among the camping and fishing and shooting photos, he will remain engaged in senior advocacy, both locally and nationally.
“It’s a mission to me, it’s not just a job,” said Beamer, who is known as one of the region’s most knowledgeable people on aging and funding. Besides serving on numerous boards, he is the previous president of the Board of the Washington State Association of Area Agencies on Aging. In July, he completed his two-year elected term as president of the Board of National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the first for a Spokane director. It’s a position where he advocated for mental health access for seniors and networked with top federal officials and lawmakers who are guiding the future for aging services at a time when the country is seeing the largest mass of older Americans at one time in history, thanks to the baby boomer generation and medical advances helping people live longer. He doesn’t want to lose those connections or the momentum by retiring and not remaining an advocate.
Larry Weiser, director of Gonzaga University’s Elder Law Clinic, calls Beamer a “gentle soul” and attributes the region’s strong network of people who work with and support the elderly all to Beamer. Weiser has worked with Beamer since his first day on the job at the agency in April 1987 where the law professor was already helping provide legal services to low-income seniors.
“He’s a brilliant guy,” Weiser said. “He’ll be really missed. He’s a wealth of knowledge.”
Beamer is quick to remind people he’s not leaving. As an only child, Beamer returned to Spokane after his graduate work in Michigan because he wanted to be near his aging parents.
He will remain on the Better Health Together board, which works collaboratively across the state to promote better health, better care and reduced costs for health care. The goal is to improve the health of Washington and make sure communities are elder friendly.
Beamer rates Spokane as “above average” because of its strong transportation network and building and zoning codes that allow for family-style senior care homes and universal building codes that require, for instance, wider doors to accommodate wheelchairs.
Yet Spokane needs more housing for low-income seniors, he said.
He also will work with Senior Assistance Fund of Eastern Washington, which raises money to support local senior services.
A Washington State University graduate, Beamer began his career in public health working for the local health district. Then at graduate school he became interested in aging. When he returned to Spokane and took the director job in 1987, the focus of senior living was moving away from nursing homes and turning toward aging in place, with less expense and better outcomes.
Today that’s the focus of the aging agency, which works to help family caregivers keep from burning out by contracting services such as meals, bathing, transportation and support groups. When Beamer started, the office had 10 staffers and a $3 million budget. Now there are 75 employees and a large network of other organizations and nonprofits that help seniors and people with disabilities stay healthy and in their homes longer.
One of Beamer’s highlights is working with local hospitals to reduce readmission rates and empower patients to take correct medications, attend follow-up appointments and keep daily health records. He also was instrumental in developing a gatekeepers program to train local mail carriers, grocery store clerks, bartenders, apartment managers and other people who often encounter the elderly to identify and report potential problems or concerns.
Beamer is proud that he found a career that allowed him to help improve the lives of so many people.
“I think it’s a really wonderful benefit that we can help people live longer,” Beamer said.
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