This article originally appeared in The Time of Your Life special section, Spring 2016.
The 25th annual Older Americans Conference is 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, May 18 at the Elks Lodge (4131 Pine Road NE, Bremerton). Is is free and open to the public.
They’re helping seniors get their needs met. 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. Among the members is Al Pinkham, the council chairman.
Pinkham spent 24 years in the U.S. 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?’ ” Pinkham said. “Then I found this group.”
After three 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.”
In the last year, the council has visited all of the senior centers in Kitsap County, listening to seniors to learn what is important to them and what needs are not being met.
“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?”
The council has met with Kitsap Transit to help improve bus service, but there is much left to be done. The council will continue to look for innovative ways to help seniors and those who are challenged meet their transportation needs.
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.”
Vice Chairwoman Mari Van Court said she found her way to the council after being the designated caregiver for three elderly relatives.
“As a family nursing practitioner, I thought I knew what I was doing,” she said. “But I was completely blind-sided by what was involved.”
The combination of legal paperwork, finances and navigating the health care system was overwhelming to her. And it consumed her time 24/7. So she sought out a support network for caregivers and found that with the county’s Division of Aging.
“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 is doing good work with making respite care available to caregivers and wants to see that caregivers 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 in convalescent homes 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 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 as planning for the future, council members said. Statistically, by 2020, one in four residents will be older than 60.
“The county is planning well and seeking our advice on long-range issues for the aging population,” Van Court said.
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 the overwhelming loneliness of 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 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.
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: Audrey Barbakoff, Bainbridge Island; Sharon Cromley, Bremerton; Nadine Geister, Port Orchard; Michaelene Manion, Port Orchard; Alfred Pinkham Jr., Silverdale; Rosemary Pinneo, Tracyton; Mari Van Court, Port Orchard; and Connie Wurm, Port Orchard.