Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in Sound Publishing’s The Time of Your Life, Spring 2015.
They serve as advisers. But they’ve all encountered their own unique issues navigating the needs of seniors.
They are the Advisory Council to the Kitsap County Division of Aging and Long Term Care, the local Area Agency on Aging.
Among them is Al Pinkham, the current chairman of the council.
Pinkham spent 24 years in the Navy and following that served three terms on the board of the Peninsula Community Health Services. He then decided to join the advisory council for the area agency on aging.
As chairman, he said he is dedicated to hearing the concerns of seniors and caregivers to seniors and the aging population and working to meet those needs.
“When I finished my terms on the community health board, I said ‘What else can I do to help the senior population?’ ” he said. “Then I found this group.”
After two years on the council, he’s seen some things that Kitsap County is doing well to serve its senior population. And he’s seen things that need work.
“We have a great amount of services available here,” he said. “But we need to get that message out to more people.”
That’s why he’s planning on taking the council meetings on the road to senior centers throughout the county, in order to hear first-hand what problems seniors are having, whether it be with accessing health care, transportation, or getting services in their homes.
“Transportation is a big issue,” he said. “What good is having places where seniors can get the care they need if they physically can’t get there?”
Another big issue for seniors is that many of them don’t want to ask for help.
“There’s a strong resistance to asking for help,” he said. “Some seniors think of it as welfare. But the fact is that the programs are being paid for with tax dollars and these seniors have worked all their lives and paid into taxes for years and years. Just like with Medicare and Social Security, they’ve earned the help.”
Council member Mari Van Court, who joined the council in January, found her way to the council after being the designated caregiver for three relatives.
“As a family nursing practitioner, I thought I knew what I was doing,” she said. “But I was completely blindsided by all that was involved.”
The combination of legal paperwork, the enormity of the finances and navigating the health care system was overwhelming to her. And it consumed her 24-7. So she sought out a support network for caregivers and found that with the county’s Division of Aging Caregivers Support Program.
“They saved my life,” she said. “Now I want to get the message out to other caregivers.”
Van Court sees a need for better transitions from hospital to nursing care and back home for seniors. She’s hoping to be able to work on making that happen. She thinks the county makes good support services available to caregivers and wants caregivers to know what’s available to them when they need help.
Council member Michaelene Manion had experience working with the disability network, having had a disabled son. She also helped her mother through a number of strokes and dementia in the 1990s.
“I saw so many people who needed help that they weren’t getting,” she said. “I decided I wanted to fight for those who don’t have a voice.”
Manion has been on the council since 2009. She points to things such as dental care and vision care that need addressing. She is working along with the other council members to gather information and make sure “Olympia and the others with the power to fund programs” know what’s lacking.
Kitsap County is doing many things right, such a planning for the future, council members said. Statistically, by 2020, one in four residents will be over the age of 60.
“The county is planning well and seeking our advice on long range issues for the aging population,” said Van Court.
Pinkham said as far as funding goes, aging issues may not be the priority now, but both the state and the U.S. Congress are paying attention.
“They know what’s coming (with an aging population),” he said. “They understand the costs of health care at the end of life and they’re looking for ways to reduce those costs. It’s a hard discussion, but it has to happen.”
Such things are Advance Health Care Directives help, he added.
Another concern of the council is loneliness and isolation among the aging population. Reaching out to seniors is crucial.
“So many elderly are lonely and they won’t ask for help,” Pinkham said. “But with the work of the agency and the council, we’re improving that. We’re trying to get the word out that help is available. There’s information out there and problems can be solved.”
One way, he said, is the Senior Information & Assistance line, 360 337-5700, or the 2-1-1 telephone resource number. Another is to go to your local senior center. Not only are there activities there to keep seniors from being lonely, but there are resources to help with a variety of issues as well.
About the county’s Area Agency on Aging Advisory Council
The purpose of the Advisory Council to the Kitsap County Division of Aging and Long Term Care is to make recommendations to the staff and the board of county commissioners regarding the development and support of the division’s mission and objective.
More specifically, the purpose of the advisory council is to work with the county to develop and administer the area plan, to conduct public meetings and hearings, to represent and advocate for the interests of older and disabled residents of Kitsap County and to review community policies, programs and actions that affect older people.
The advisory council currently has eight members who are appointed to represent specific areas of the county. Council members are Sharon Cromley, Bremerton; Susan Hanna, Kingston; Gail Hiestand, Bainbridge Island; Michaelene Manion, Port Orchard; Alfred Pinkham Jr., Silverdale; Rosemary Pinneo, Tracyton; Mari Van Court, Port Orchard; and Connie Wurm, Port Orchard.
About the agency
Kitsap County Aging and Long-Term Care (ALTC) is a division of Kitsap County government and is the state-designated Area Agency on Aging (AAA) for Kitsap County. ALTC provides services in the home and throughout the community for seniors and adults with disabilities to help them remain living in their own homes. Case management staff assesses and authorizes services for people receiving Medicaid funded in-home care services in Kitsap County.
Information and assistance staff offers free help to individuals and organizations with locating and accessing services and programs for seniors 60 years of age and older and those who are family caregivers. The goal is to offer quality services emphasizing independence and dignity.
The division’s administrative staff is responsible for fiscal and contract management and program and system planning and coordination. Kitsap ALTC directly operates:
• Senior Information and Assistance
• Case Management
• Long-Term Care Ombudsman
• Statewide Health Insurance Benefits Advisors (SHIBA)
• Family Caregiver Support Program
Kitsap County Aging and Long-Term Care also contracts for a variety of services throughout the county.
In addition, ALTC staff and Advisory Council members advocate for an effective system of long-term care services, collaborating with policy makers and other social service agencies. More information is available at www.agingkitsap.com.