A Barnstable Patriot article written on July 28th discusses issues facing the older generations on Cape and looks at the several state bills currently being considered, including one sponsored by State Representative Will Crocker that would provide tax credits for families of caregivers.
Diverse Concerns Emerge at State Council Visit to Barnstable Senior Center
July 28, 2017
State officials visiting Barnstable Senior Center Tuesday said they were glad it wasn’t a beach day, because the cloudy weather helped deliver the largest, most diverse turnout yet for Gov. Charlie Baker’s Council to Address Aging tour in Massachusetts.
“Barnstable and the Berkshires are Massachusetts’ oldest counties,” said Alice Bonner, secretary of the state Executive Office of Elder Affairs and a former member of the Obama Administration. “I’m here to see what the people are thinking. I’ve been doing this for two years. Some themes are starting to emerge. The challenge is not just to live longer but better.”
Bonner said seniors’ top concerns include transportation, “especially in rural areas, so they can get where they want to go; affordable housing, so they can age in their communities; health care costs; caregiving and caregivers; isolation; and sight and hearing disabilities.”
“Your issues are almost identical” to those in two earlier “listening tour” sessions, council Co-chair Eileen Connors told an audience that topped 200. But “this is the largest and most diverse turnout yet.”
One in five residents of Barnstable County and one in seven in the state is 65 years of age or older, said state Sen. Julian Cyr, who spoke at the gathering. By 2035, those numbers are projected to grow to one in three Cape residents, he said.
“Housing is a critical issue for older adults on Cape Cod,” Cyr said. “Opportunities to downsize are pretty limited,” and many homeowners are land rich and cash poor.
“We spend our time and our treasure to take care of members of our family,” said state Rep. Will Crocker, who also serves as a town councilor. Several state bills currently being considered, including one sponsored by Crocker, would provide tax credits for families of caregivers.
“We’re looking at rezoning all around the town of Barnstable” that would allow homeowners to rent their house and live on site in an accessory apartment, Crocker said.
“I’m very interested in veterans,” said Joseph Gentile, of Centerville, who served in the Pacific with the U.S. Navy during World War II. “They have no place to go, but many of them are saying ‘no’ to nursing homes because they can’t afford $4,000 to $6,000 a month. The population of veterans is increasing. Veterans are dying. They have nowhere to go.”
“How are we supposed to afford all of this? We’re not millionaires,” Gentile added.
Barnstable Senior Services Director Madeline Noonan said she shares Gentile’s fiscal concerns.
“We are the front line of an aging community and an aging state ... and setting an example for other U.S. states, because we’re aging faster than other parts of the country,” she said.
“We’re going to see a 2 percent cut” in the Senior Center’s Formula Grant this year, Noonan said, and “the governor may have to make cuts to local aid line items. If more cuts were to come, that would be of concern to us,” since state funding pays the salaries of Senior Center staffers, she said.
“We are looking at a tsunami of old age approaching, and it’s coming faster than you think,” said Cynthia Stead, executive director of the Sight Loss Services, Inc. and an at-large board member of Elder Services. “Two thousand people living on Cape Cod are legally blind,” Stead said, “with no services except for nonprofits like mine.”
“Isolation is one of the biggest, most critical issues elders face here on Cape Cod,” said Town Councilor John Flores, who said he was a caregiver for his mother.
Isolation is a growing national phenomenon, added Barry Cornwall, who led the AARP Foundation Tax Aid Program at Marshfield Council on Aging for 35 years. For seniors, “Finding someone whom they can trust is a critical need.”
Molly Purdue of the Alzheimer’s Family Support Center of Cape Cod said her group helps “bring families together to create a social safety net” of caregivers who increase members’ quality of life.
The final session on the Council to Address Aging is scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon on Wednesday, Aug. 2, at Elder Services of Berkshire County in Pittsfield. For more information on the state council, visit www.mass.gov/agingcouncil. Email your ideas to: Aging.Conversaion@MassMail.State.MA.US.