Seniors overlooked in Summit County
December 27, 2011
In a community of outdoor recreation enthusiasts and Olympians, Assistant Summit County Manager Anita Lewis says the elderly are becoming the area’s forgotten demographic.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, almost a quarter of Summit County residents are over the age of 50. Lewis said that as the baby boomer generation continues to age, she is concerned that the proper infrastructure is not in place to care for them and allow them to remain in the county.
In Summit County, there is only one assisted-living facility, Elk Meadows, which can hold about 50 residents. Another facility is scheduled to be built near Park City next summer that will house about 10 people.
"No one is pushing for the seniors and I am not sure if we are ready for the baby boomers to begin to grow old," she said.
To help prepare the county, Lewis started a Senior Issues Group along with the presidents of the three local senior centers. The group tries to reach out to the senior community and explore what can be done to allow residents to stay in Summit County once they are no longer able to live independently.
Despite the pent-up need for more assisted-living facilities, Lewis said figuring out where to build them is as controversial as finding a site for workforce housing.
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"Everyone thinks we need it, but no one wants it near them," she said, as evidenced by the neighbors’ outcry when Beehive Homes received approval to build a 10-bedroom assisted-living facility near Highland Estates in August.
"I receive a lot of calls from kids who live here and want their parents to move closer because they can no longer live independently," Lewis said. "And where can the children go to try to figure that out? We want seniors to be able to stay in their homes for as long as possible and then we want them to be able to stay in the community they love or close to family."
Lewis added that since some workforce housing needs have been met, she is hoping the focus can be shifted to senior living needs.
"I often hear ‘my house is too big for me, but I don’t want to move down to Salt Lake to be in a smaller home or assisted-living facility,’" she said.
One of the Senior Issues Group’s first tasks was to establish a place where families and senior citizens can go to get information on existing services for seniors. A survey done at the centers in Park City, North Summit and South Summit showed that seniors were concerned about housing issues. Each of the three senior centers has about 100 regular attendees. But Lewis said she wants to be able to contact the seniors who don’t attend the center and find out what their concerns and needs are, as well.
"How do we find those seniors who are at home and not attending the senior center and figure out what we should change so that they will attend or what they need," she said. "If we need to change the activities that are being offered so more seniors attend, then we want to know that."
The task force is also developing a volunteer program that allows local residents to reach out to senior citizens in the community. The group partnered with Mountainlands Community Housing Trust to create the Mountainlands Senior Companion Program which matches residents with senior citizens who are living alone. It gives the senior citizen an opportunity for social interaction and someone to check in on them, said Lewis.
"Everyone is hesitant to step in, but just having someone who comes over to say ‘hi’ means a lot to an elderly person," she said. "In the East Side, there is also no mass transportation, so we are hoping to find people who are willing to drive senior citizens to the grocery store or doctor appointments. Summit County staff tries to do as much as they can but our time is limited and we want to be able to get the entire community involved. It is a very gratifying experience."
To find out more about how to get involved with senior programs or volunteer, contact Anita Lewis at (435) 336-3220 or email at email@example.com .