The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.
In 10 short years, 20% of Arizona’s population will be 65 or older and nearly 30% of these individuals will be living on annual incomes of $25,000 or less. This “tsunami” of baby boomers, fueled by more than 10,000 a day turning 65 through 2030, threatens to land an economic and humanitarian wallop that can be avoided if we wake up and collectively ensure the care and housing that all elders deserve, no matter their economic standing.
Without action too many of our elders will face substandard housing, inadequate care, poor nutrition, unaffordable prescriptions and the high levels of anxiety and depression that make people sicker and lead to multiple emergency room visits. Inaction costs money. And the price tag will be substantially higher tomorrow if we don’t invest in solutions today.
An article in the July/August issue of Washington Monthly notes that approximately half of us will need some form of long-term care and an estimated 15% will face related medical bills exceeding $200,000. The article states, “The safety net you thought would catch you in old age is less like a net and more like a staircase you get pushed down, bumping along until you’ve impoverished yourself enough to hit Medicaid at the bottom.”
The Monthly questions why the looming elder-care issue has been met largely with political silence. Among the reasons they note: “No clear bad guy” to rile the political anger that often leads to action. A majority of Americans believe that families should care for aging loved ones and “people struggling with providing for their parents tend to feel guilt and shame, directing the blame inside.”
Accordingly, let’s hear it for the candidates for Tucson mayor: Ed Ackerley (I), Randi Dorman (D), Steve Farley (D) and Regina Romero (D). All four accepted an invitation to meet the elders and tour St. Luke’s Home on July 23.
St. Luke’s, a holistic assisted-living community for low-income elders, provides quality housing and care for the teachers, nurses, academics and ministers who land in the income “gap.” They are not wealthy enough to afford the, on average, $48,000 a year charged by the for-profit assisted-living facilities that seem to be popping up on every corner, and not poor enough for state-supported housing and care.
St. Luke’s is an Eden Registry community which means it provides beautiful surroundings, intergenerational programming that stimulates minds and keeps bodies moving, nutritious food and respect and dignity for our elders. Essential factors that help elders stay healthier, which translates to lower care costs for all of us. St. Luke’s academic partnership with the University of Arizona makes us unique in the nation as a nonprofit, assisted-living Eden community for low-income elders.
Kudos to our mayoral candidates for breaking the silence and meeting, face-to-face, the amazing individuals who live at St. Luke’s. As CEO, I am proud to be taking on the vital elder-care issue at both the micro and macro level. St. Luke’s offers a micro-level, replicable model of quality care for Elders. On the macro level, St. Luke’s serves on the Elder Alliance, a group of community organizations striving for solutions.
Solving this problem means we all of must break the silence and create high-quality, housing and care alternatives for elders, built on dedicated funding models that will serve as strong levies that can withstand the brunt force of the foreseen tsunami. Hats off to our mayoral candidates for taking the first step.