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Steve Ahillen
By Steve Ahillen May 12, 2012

Work begun to help caregivers

During his campaign, Bill Haslam used a stop in Memphis to announce his plans to help with the growing challenge of caring for the elderly and disabled.

According to an accompanying press release on his campaign site, Haslam said he would work "to coordinate the efforts of the Area Agencies on Aging and Disability and private sector nonprofits, faith-based and community groups to make sure the right information and resources are available to those who need it. He will create this network to ensure they are talking, sharing information and providing the right level of support. Mayor Haslam will also use this effort to draw attention to this important issue and to educate the public on the challenges facing seniors and those who care for them.”

Sixteen months into his term, we asked the governor"s office how he has done on efforts to meet this promise and received this e-mailed reply on May 11, 2012:

"In June 2011 the governor convened a Summit on Aging in partnership with Lipscomb University focusing on potential partnerships among the public, private and non-profit sectors to better serve seniors. At the time, the governor said, ‘This is an opportunity to bring experts from across the state and nation together to devote time to discuss ways that we can better care for our seniors." We continue to have regular and frequent conversations with leaders in the aging network, including the leadership of the Area Agencies on Aging and Disability. The Commission on Aging and Disability has a new executive director, who was hired several months ago, and we look forward to working with him to follow up on items discussed at the Governor's Summit. In addition, the governor's Boards and Commissions legislation now gives the governor the authority to hire the executive director of the Commission on Aging and Disability.”

The challenge at present and the larger challenge ahead concerning senior care have been well documented. The average cost of an assisted living facility in Tennessee is $2,200 a month. Medical care costs continue to rise. And, the biggest concerns of all are projections that the 65-74 age groups will be by far the fasting growing population sector between 2010 and 2020, jumping from 463,796 to 657,683. Charla Long, executive director of the Center for Law, Justice and Society at Lipscomb, even refers to it as a "silver tsunami” in a blog on the subject in which she states that Tennessee ranks 49th in how we deliver services to the aging.

The sometimes-round-the-clock care needed for the elderly and disabled is a challenge families often can't handle, especially in this age of single-parent families and those with both parents working.

The new director of The Commission on Aging and Disability  is Jim Shulman, who was hired Jan. 18, 2012. We asked him how  the summit at Lipscomb turned out:

"The Governor's Summit at Lipscomb set the stage for a much broader, more impactful effort at improving the quality of life for our seniors," Shulman wrote in his emailed response. "It has provided the framework for this agency's efforts as we prepare for the large volume of baby boomers that are headed into the senior category (the first group turned 65 last year).".

Shulman also mentioned three efforts being undertaken:

1. Initiate a statewide communications plan that uses up-to-date information in an easier to understand format for the purpose of reaching out to more people.  A public service announcement is almost ready for release, a radio spot is being worked on, a monthly newsletter is being prepared, and efforts are being taken to clean up our existing databases so that we can reach out to more groups and people.

2. In the last three months, the agency has visited senior programs in nine counties across the State to listen to senior concerns and learn more about gaps in existing services.  Efforts have also been made to reach out to other State Departments, associations such as AARP, non-profit groups, and private industry to find ways to partner up on new programs and initiatives.  Outreach has also been made to the colleges and universities in an attempt to expand programs for seniors.

3. Current reviews are underway to look at issues that are high priority:  food insecurity among seniors, the lack of transportation services in many areas of the State, and the huge concerns of dealing with Alzheimer"s (both from the individual with the disease but also for the caretakers themselves).   Initial meetings have been held on each one of these concerns.

Effort is underway, but it does not seem the network for dealing with the issue is quite in place yet. In the Works.

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