Elderly and Disability Supports: The Crisis Looms

Another hat I wear in our community is as president of the board of the Southwestern PA Partnership on Aging (SWPPA). This nonprofit group is the foremost advocate in our region for aging and disability issues, and the SWPPA board is made up of some of the most astute advocates I have come to know. 

My involvement with SWPPA was initiated by some of the similarity of issues experienced by people who are aging, as well as with folks who live with disabilities. Both groups (elders, and people with disabilities) experience powerful attitudinal, and architectural barriers. Along with devaluing stereotypes, both groups are economically disadvantaged, and struggle for basic services that most of us take for granted.

So to stay focused in both areas, I keep my eyes pealed on new advances, and best practice alternatives that we can advocate for all people. To this end, this weekend, I found an article tweeted by Bill Moyers on the "Elder Boom" and although I was aware of these issues, reading this article put it into better perspective. For me.

Moyer summarized a new book by Al-Jen Poo, "The Age of Dignity," and here are some of the things she reported: 

* Every 8 seconds an American turns 65, some 10,000 per day. 

* Today, 13% of the US population is over 65; by 2020 it will be 20% 

* Today, 5 million Americans are over 85

* 70% of people over 65 need some sort of in-home support

* We will need at least 1.8 million additional home care workers to support the "boom" 

This challenge is real now, as my organization, CLASS employs some 200 personal care attendants (in-home care) to support the folks we serve in their homes and we are always struggling to find staff to do this work. Even more challenging are the economics that we face. Today, the average national hourly salary for a PCA is between $20 to $21 dollars (although in PA it is $17 to $18/hr), and the average national monthly cost for a 4 person room in a long term care facility is $3,300. If you want a double room, the cost jumps to an average $6,200/month. Where do we find the people, and funds, to support the projected increases, especially as conservative government practices look to cut budgets.

All of this reinforces the need for more PCA's and Direct Support Professionals (DSP) and speaks to a serious economic crisis that may loom ahead.  Aging should be a time of grace and dignity, but the numbers suggest that for many, it will be tragedy.