Colazo: Amid Changes in Care, OC Seniors Have Nowhere to Turn

For seniors and older adults with pre-existing health conditions, the current political climate is more than a little troubling, and is causing a great deal of uncertainty over the future of healthcare.

As an aging resident, I personally have felt incredibly uneasy watching the healthcare debate unfold. A 2016 report by the Orange County Aging Services Collaborative, titled “Orange County Older Adult Profile”, found that I’m not alone. A majority of elderly citizens in Orange County have at least one chronic medical condition, and nearly one in three struggles with a disability.

Anyone who has cared for an elderly relative knows how important it is to find a cost-efficient, reliable way to serve their needs. As an aging person who currently lives alone, I am lucky to have relatives who are able to help me manage my healthcare needs. However, there are thousands of people like me with no one to count on. Disabilities and language barriers often magnify their difficulties and put them in an even more vulnerable position.

In Orange County, the population of older adults living in poverty has steadily increased. Options for affordable senior services are limited, making it difficult for low-income seniors to access health and social services that can help us remain independent, especially for those living alone.

More than 50 percent of seniors in Orange County have public health insurance, and among those who receive Medicare, one in four has a chronic health condition like diabetes or heart disease .The number of low-income individuals who are eligible for both Medicare and Medi-Cal has increased by over 40 percent in the last ten years.

If you’ve ever suffered from a serious health condition, or found yourself physically incapacitated, you understand the toll it can take on your mental and emotional health. No one, no matter their age, wants to become a burden to their family or friends. So, what is the current health system doing to ease our concerns?

With the proper support from local agencies and health care programs that help us meet our needs, the elderly may live independently or with friends and family in our local communities instead of a nursing home.

The Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly, also known as PACE, is one such program. The PACE model is centered on the belief that it is better for the well-being of seniors with chronic care needs to be served in their own communities. Nationally recognized as a cost-effective and high-quality alternative to institutionalized placement, PACE is a program with a proven track record.

According to the Older Adult Profile report there are 431,964 adults ages 65 years or older who live in Orange County. This represents nearly 15% of Orange County’s population. With only one PACE center in Orange County, there is clearly an unmet need for additional comprehensive programs. Currently, there are limited options for seniors who require multi-purpose services that include transportation, medical, restorative and social care. We need a greater investment in our seniors and especially our frail elderly to keep them out of expensive skilled nursing facilities.

Our seniors need a place to turn for help. I hope other senior citizens, their families, their friends and caregivers, will call on their local and state leaders to let them know we need additional support. Hopefully, our voices will be heard and there will soon be a time when residents in OC have the same opportunity as those of other counties to benefit from a full range of senior programs, including access to local community PACE centers.

Gloria Colazo, Ambassador for the Heart/Stroke Association, FPAC member for St. Jude Hospital

Opinions expressed in editorials belong to the authors and not Voice of OC.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue or others please contact Voice of OC Involvement Editor Theresa Sears at TSears@voiceofoc.org