Seniors and advocates at 10 listening sessions on New Hampshire’s next four-year State Plan on Aging — the road map for service creation for older adults — have voiced similar and sometimes surprising requests.
According to session results, needed are improvements in public transportation, more handicapped parking near restaurants and other destinations, increased handicapped access to buildings, and greater availability of services and workers to help seniors to stay successfully in their homes — including a home-sharing network that would enable elders with spare rooms to offer housing in exchange for rent or live-in help.
They have complained about bullying in senior housing — and a perilously-long four-year wait for an apartment in senior housing, with waiting lists so backed up they’ve been closed.
Last week roughly 45 residents gathered at the Manchester City Library to air their worries and recommendations anonymously in hopes that their observations and experiences will inform the 2019 blueprint for meeting the needs of older Granite Staters.
“We need to make sure that we’re delivering and performing with each state plan we create,” said Wendi Aultman, bureau chief for the state’s Bureau of Elderly and Adult Services. “One strategy is to look at the state plan as a tool to advocate for needs in the community.”
“We’ve found we have people eligible for services but can’t access them because there’s not enough staff in an agency,” Aultman said. “We need to be flexible with who we pay, including family members and family friends” who help seniors at home.
“If you’re middle class, there are big gaps in service,” said Barbara Salvatore of Bedford, a director of EngAGING NH, which provides a free online newsletter devoted to senior issues and community-based healthy aging. “If you’re low income, you get help; if you’re upper income, you can pay for it. We need more options for aging services regardless of income, which is what the Older Americans Act originally funded” when it was passed in 1965, Salvatore said.
The importance of strategically combating senior isolation and loneliness, which erode mental and physical health, has been emphasized by decades of research, and continues to be a topic at the listening sessions.
“Congregate meals comes up a lot as a way to bring people together at community and senior centers,” said Jo Moncher, community relations manager for the Division of Long Term Supports at DHHS. “New Hampshire is one of the fastest-growing older adult states in the country. It’s all hands on deck” in terms of meeting future needs.
Public participation at the events has been higher than expected statewide, running 40 to 60 attendees per listening session, with 1,250 questionnaires completed online or returned by mail so far, according to the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
The senior needs survey takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete and closes January 15. A final draft of the 2019 to 2023 plan will be released in July.
The previous State Plan on Aging focused exclusively on what New Hampshire can do with finite financial resources, said Ken Berlin of Manchester, a member of the volunteer State Committee on Aging. “Now it’s also what we as citizens can do when we don’t have the financial wherewithal. There are things we can do that will be a big help.”
There are five more listening sessions on the state plan: Thursday Dec. 6, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at the Newport Senior Center at 76 South Main St.; Friday December 7, 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. at Rockingham County Nursing Home, 117 North Road, Brentwood; and December 20, 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. at Gibson Center for Seniors, 14 Grove St., North Conway. LGBT senior and family community listening sessions will be held Dec. 10, 10:30 to 12:30 p.m. at the TLC Family Resource Center, 109 Pleasant St., Claremont, and Dec. 13, 4:30 to 6 p.m. at the Portsmouth Public Library, 75 Parrot Ave.