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Study: Pikes Peak region ill-prepared to treat elderly

By Jakob Rodgers Updated: January 17, 2014 at 7:49 am 0

The Pikes Peak region has a shortage of doctors that treat senior citizens - and new doctors have little financial incentive to specialize in geriatric care.

Further, transportation services to help seniors get to medical appointments - or anywhere else, for that matter - are inadequate.

And the resources that are available for seniors are under utilized.

Those were the findings of a report released Thursday by two Colorado Springs-based nonprofits, Peak Vista Community Health Centers and the Innovations in Aging Collaborative, about the Pikes Peak region's system of care for the "silver tsunami" - or the aging Baby Boomer generation.

The problem is most acute when considering seniors' desire to age independently and away from nursing homes, the report said.

"I'm very concerned that the seniors we already have in our community are barely having their needs met," said Beth Roalstad, executive director of the Innovations in Aging Collaborative. "And what are they going to do in the next couple of years to address the growing numbers?"

The report, prepared by Jody Alyn Consulting, was the culmination ofa six-month, $20,000 project The Colorado Trust that entailed several "convenings" - discussion groups involving 52 service providers and stakeholders across the Pikes Peak region.

Each discussion session focused on the concept of "aging in place," meaning the challenge of remaining independent through one's senior years.

Existing problems will only get worse, report authors said. The number of people ages 65 and older will increase 179 percent from 2010 to 2040 - a rate eclipsing all other age groups, according to the Colorado State Demography Office.

And quick-fix solutions are few. Medicare stood out as a nexus for health care issues, the report found, with poor reimbursement rates affecting physician participation.

The program also lacks in dental, mental health and home-based health care coverage.

Report authors stressed that more collaboration and discussion is needed to ready the region for the demographic shift, especially in the fight to keep seniors from becoming isolated.

"We feel like we just barely scratched the surface," said Randy Hylton, spokesman for Peak Vista.

The report offered few tangible initiatives to pursue in the coming years - opting instead to highlight many of the current problems, while largely pushing for more meetings to find solutions.

Among the report's recommendations:

-Create a one-stop senior service center that offers assistance for daily activities and access to better nutrition habits;

-Develop a "hands on" education and navigation system for Medicare recipients - an "integrated system of programs" that would include consumer guides that would help seniors understand the complex benefits program;

-Create a program that helps identify mental health needs offers services;

-Expand reach of the Yellow Book, a free directory of services for seniors across the Pikes Peak region.

Another recommendation in the report was a call for alternatives to the way that the region funds senior services - systems that currently "reward inefficiencies, block collaborating and produce undesirable results."

Roalstad envisioned building new programs in tandem with initiatives already underway - such as the upcoming Lane Center for Academic Health Sciences at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

But Hylton stressed that more work is needed to fully address the issue.

"This will serve as the foundation for programs and planning that need to be developed over the next few years in the Pikes Peak region," Hylton said.

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