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Residents at Horace Nye nursing home. NCPR file photo
Residents at Horace Nye nursing home. NCPR file photo

Where will we live when we're old?

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An advocacy group for senior citizens says there's not enough quality housing for elderly New Yorkers that will allow them to remain in their homes.

A new study by Leading Age New York found that many communities lack the kind of infrastructure that will allow the growing population of seniors to maintain a high quality of life without over-burdening taxpayers.

The group's executive director, Jim Klein, spoke with Susan Arbetter, host of the public radio magazine Capitol Pressroom.

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SA: I'm hearing about a lot of, scary numbers, of nursing homes being sold off, shunted off onto private organizations by counties. What do you think about that?

JK: Counties are facing a difficult time, and some of them are looking to move their nursing homes. But what we're really trying to focus on is having seniors be able to stay where they consider "home." And what they consider home can be the nursing home that they happen to be in, it could be assisted living, or it could be housing in the community.

SA: So you did a study. What did it show?

JK: It focused on the changing demographics of the state population, how there's 10,000 people a day who are becoming over 65 as the baby boomers move through, and there's going to be a large jump in the "older old", as they're known, the over-85...a 48 percent increase in the "older old", it's an important group because they tend to have three times more issues with the activities of daily living. So many times they need more assistance, they're the type of people who can really benefit from affordable housing with some services tied to it.

SA: People are so scared, I think we sort of depend on government to take care of us, 'we'll have some place to live, we'll have enough to eat', but it seems like these services are stretched very thin right now, and the more baby boomers who get older, the less there is to go around.

JK: Yeah, there's certainly going to be a gap in affordable housing. What the report really shows is the need for it, the demographics. It's not a public policy paper, but there are some obvious conclusions from it, and that is that we need more housing, more available slots, we need some funding that is available to some of these upstate cities to update their housing stock, or bring in new technologies, like transportation, like do you know where the senior centers are, like how are you going to get your groceries: not medical services, but services that allow someone to stay stable at home.

SA: How much money are you talking about, and from where do you get it?

JK: We think the Department of Health and the governor have done a good job of recognizing the tie between housing and Medicaid, and how if you can keep people in stable housing, whether it's a severely-disabled mentally ill population or a senior population, so what we're looking for is [some segment of state funding to be] set aside for the elderly. Because they're one slip and fall away from being a high-cost Medicaid person.

SA: So you're trying to do preventative measures rather than the "squeaky wheel gets the oil."

JK: Exactly, because we all know a senior who has a slip and fall and can't stay home by themselves, is going to end up being a high-cost Medicaid person.

SA: Are there any other facts that emerged from this study that you guys did, that you want to share with us?

JK: I think the only other thing is that this can be seen as a women's issue, because a lot of the older, single women living alone with relatively low, comparatively low incomes. We had a great speaker at our national conference who said "all men can leave the room, because this is really a women's issue" [and it] putting them at greater risk of needing services.

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