The Signal Tribune newspaper

Affordable housing and accessible transportation for seniors stand out as most urgent needs

Anita W. Harris: Staff Writer

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Photos courtesy City of LB
A chart from the “Establishing Care Systems for an Age-Friendly Community” report by the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services shows population-age distributions for the city, county and state. While Long Beach has a comparatively lower percent of seniors relative to its overall population than other parts of the state, it has a higher percentage of 45- to 54-year-olds, suggesting increasing future needs.

The Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), in conjunction with the Long Beach Parks, Recreation & Marine Department (PRM), this month released a comprehensive report on the city’s older population entitled “Establishing Care Systems for an Age-Friendly Community,” which demonstrates a pressing need to increase senior-care services.

Karen Doolittle, a consultant with the nonprofit FUSE Corps., prepared the report for the City with help from a grant by SCAN, a nonprofit senior-health plan provider.

Tiffany Cantrell-Warren, bureau manager for DHHS’s community health department, said that while the City had created a strategic plan for older adults in 2005 and updated it in 2016, the grant from SCAN allowed a more comprehensive investigation of challenges facing Long Beach seniors.

“[SCAN is] senior-specific,” Cantrell-Warren told the Signal Tribune in a phone interview this week. “We had a shared goal to promote seniors’ independent lives. [!] We both wanted to see a deeper dive into the data for aging residents.”

Cantrell-Warren explained that the report’s findings will allow the City to make better investments in senior care that will benefit the whole city.

“It helps us understand where we are today [!] so we can make smart and strategic investments,” she said. “Sometimes people don’t realize the problems of seniors because they may not be as visible.”

She said that diving more deeply into the data yielded new information about the senior population.

“There was some data that was surprising to us,” she said. “The percentage of those over age 65 who live alone is higher than in L.A. County as a whole.”

She specified that the data showed that 28.7 percent of Long Beach seniors over 65 live alone compared to 22.5 percent in Los Angeles County and 23.3 percent in the state.

“We recognize this is something unique to our population,” she said, noting that such seniors are disproportionately targeted for financial abuse and suffer from social isolation, leading to mental-health concerns.

According to the report, 25 percent of the city’s current population of 470,000 is over 50 years old, which highlights a need for increasing senior-care services in the key areas of housing, transportation, safety, health and quality-of-life.

“Providing quality support to the growing population of seniors is further complicated by the demographic changes underway,” the report states. “Long Beach’s residents are expected to become not only more ethnically diverse, but also older and financially insecure. By 2025, more than 22 percent of Long Beach’s senior residents will be living below the poverty line.”

The report provides a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of local senior-population needs in the key areas mentioned above, as well as trends and case studies of specific senior population groups, such as military veterans facing homelessness and seniors with dementia suffering abuse by caregivers.

“Next to housing and transportation, the greatest need lies in affordable in-home care,” the report’s executive study states. “Significant gaps exist due to the rise in demand for caregivers from increases in Alzheimer’s, dementia, or milder cognitive impairment, other disabilities and complexities associated with multiple chronic diseases.”

Additional analytic “snapshots” of seniors in Long Beach’s LGBTQ and Cambodian communities in the report show that 34 percent of LGBTQ seniors live alone and 51 percent of Cambodian seniors experience depression as a result of past trauma, cultural isolation and language barriers.

“Long Beach’s LGBTQ and Cambodian populations face a unique set of challenges that makes finding appropriate, affordable, safe and trustworthy caregivers yet more challenging,” the executive summary states.

To gauge the efficacy of currently available services, the report analyzes how seniors utilize PRM’s senior-center programs, such as lunches, activities and classes, as well as other local agencies and volunteer organizations, such as the Long Beach Police Department’s Senior Police Partners program, the Jewish Family and Children’s Services (JFCS) and the Multi-Service Center (MSC), which provides homeless care to about 650 seniors annually.

But the report stresses that reliance on volunteer organizations is one of the “threats” to effective policy.

“City programs and nonprofit providers operate heavily on fundraising and grants, which is not sustainable,” the report states. “Funding that is often framed in cost-avoidance ignores the cost-benefit of a thriving senior population.”

Another major weakness of current services identified in the report is deficient in-home care for seniors.
“Staffing constraints facing many providers result in not enough home visits and assessments; home visits allow for a comprehensive assessment of the senior,” the report states. “[There is a] necessity for greater in-home outreach to address issues with self-care, alienation and isolation.”

As to why problems in senior care are growing, the report points to cultural changes that have weakened traditional support structures for seniors.

A table from the “Establishing Care Systems for an Age-Friendly Community” report by the Long Beach Department of Health and Human Services shows the number of Long Beach seniors by age group and ZIP code. North Long Beach, the 90805 ZIP code, has the highest population of those 55 years and older.

“Demographic shifts and other trends [!] limit the availability of potential caregivers, including lack of affordable care (especially a growing need for the middle class), an increased share of employed women, and caregiving expectations weakened by divorce and alternative lifestyles,” the executive summary states.

Looking forward, the report identifies the need for education about senior issues.

“Gerontological training and education on the needs of seniors, along with cultural and sensitivity training on equity and aging is needed across the community,” the summary states.

The summary also points to the necessity of technological innovation to better coordinate senior services.

“A shared online referral system will assist with coordination, collaboration, tracking and reporting on systems of care, thus providing valuable feedback for decision making, and improved sustainability and impact,” the summary states. “Innovative solutions and policies that improve housing, transportation, and long-term health and care services and supports, and reduce unmet needs, could benefit both older adults, their families and caregivers, for an age-friendly Long Beach.”

Cantrell-Warren presented the report’s findings at a May 1 symposium entitled Aging Reimagined 2.0, held jointly by DHHS, SCAN and California State University Long Beach’s College of Health and Human Services, where she discussed the need to shift from systems-centered care approaches to client-centered programs and services, including nurses and social workers addressing seniors’ home environments and psycho-social issues.

She announced at the symposium the launch of the Long Beach Healthy Aging Center at the city’s main senior center on 4th Street that will offer quality-of-life programs and provide safe spaces and meals.
“We’re going to be making more investments,” Cantrell-Warren said. “Those are changes that will happen over years [!] but they don’t take away from everyone else. It takes a village.”

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Affordable housing and accessible transportation for seniors stand out as most urgent needs