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George Cleveland, executive director of The Gibson Center in North Conway, leads “An Open Conversation on the Needs of Seniors in Northern Carroll County.” About 40 area leaders attended to talk about the need for assisted living in the area. (GRETCHEN GROSKY/UNION LEADER)

Carroll County leaders: A 'critical need' for assisted living


NORTH CONWAY — In all of Mount Washington Valley, there are eight assisted living beds for seniors who need some help but are not ready for long-term nursing care.

And those beds are for the eight people who can afford it. Those beds aren’t for lower income seniors on Medicaid, just for those who are private payers.

A group of about 40 Carroll County leaders came together at The Gibson Center for Senior Services Monday to start discussing how to address the need.

Carroll County Commissioner Mark Hounsell called for a public-private partnership to build affordable assisted living. He predicted such housing would be self-sustaining and cost taxpayers nothing, and that there would be a waiting list as soon as it opened.

“We are going to do something,” Hounsell said. “We need to become more and more focused on what we are going to do. We’re not going to sit back on this issue.”

Carroll County is home to the oldest population in New Hampshire, the state with the second oldest population in the country. U.S. Census figures show that in 2015, just over 25 percent of the county’s population was 65 or older.

Many who were in attendance see the issue of the aging population firsthand in their work. Howie Chandler, administrator for Mountain View Nursing Home in Ossipee, called the housing gap between living at home and moving to a nursing home a “critical need.”

“We have a pretty good safety net here for seniors, but it’s stretching,” Chandler said.

George Cleveland is executive director of The Gibson Center, a nonprofit organization that provides programming, transportation and meals to Carroll County seniors. Last year, the center served 50,000 meals to seniors at both the center and through its Meals on Wheels program.

He said seniors looking for assisted living options are responsible for one of the top kinds of calls the center takes, and that the need is going to grow. He pointed to new population projects from the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, which predicts that between 2015 and 2035, the number of Granite Staters 65 and older will increase by 85 percent. The number of those 85 and older will rise by 127 percent over the same time period, according to the study.

“All we need to change is everything, but the need that is really screaming is the need for assisted living,” Cleveland said.

The afternoon meeting was called “An Open Conversation on the Needs of Seniors in Northern Carroll County,” and was attended by many state and local officials, senior care agencies, medical providers and interested citizens.

They brought up other issues facing the county, including the exodus of younger people, affordable homes being bought and razed for bigger homes, wealthier seniors moving to the southern part of the state for higher-end assisted living, and the shortage of licensed health care workers in the area.

Hounsell said there is something wonderful about having an aging population.

“We’re at a time in our county when we have a treasure — our senior citizens,” Hounsell said. “We bring more than our aches and our ailments. We bring wisdom.”

Silver Linings is a continuing Union Leader/Sunday News report focusing on the issues of New Hampshire’s aging population and seeking out solutions. Union Leader reporter Gretchen Grosky would like to hear from readers about issues related to aging. She can be reached at ggrosky@unionleader.com or (603) 206-7739. See more at www.unionleader.com/aging.


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