As Summit County population ages, need for senior facilities grows
As older population increases, need for services grows
Fifty years ago, at age 65, people were ready to take a break after a lifetime of mining, ranching, or logging. But today’s retirement-aged people are more active, involved and engaged than ever before. There’s plenty of gray hair under those ski and bike helmets, but people have a hop in their step. Seventy is the new 50.
In the 1970s Park City attracted the nation’s youth who migrated to the mountains after college, the military, or to just get away from home. Now, those same kids who helped make Park City what is today aren’t kids anymore. In fact, Park City now has the oldest median age in the state, according to Bill Malone at the Park City Chamber/Bureau, at just under 40 years old.
Summit County Councilman Glenn Wright is 70, though he looks and acts younger and chairs the Mountain Association of Government’s aging group. He’s seen the difference. “I actually lived in a traditional retirement community in Florida,” he says. “Park City is much more physically active,” he adds, mentioning the Park City Mountain Sports Club with its active, older outdoors members. But he recognizes that the need for senior services is increasing.
So do Ray Freer, Bill Becker and Dick Welsh. They’ve formed an ad hoc committee concentrating on the needs of seniors. “Nationally, in the next 20 years, the population of those over 65 will go from 21 million to 45 million,” says Freer. “That’s from 15 percent of the population, to 22 percent.” He sees the need for a Continuum of Care program in Park City that leads people from independent living, through assisted living to skilled nursing as they age, and, for some, memory care. “People want to stay here, and live out their lives in a place they love, worked, and raised their family,” says Freer. And they only want to downsize once.
A 2014 independent study funded by Park City recommended 80 units for seniors, with an extra 10 beds every year. Right now, there are only two assisted living facilities in Summit County: Elk Meadows in Oakley, and Beehive in the Trailside area, but these advocates say we need more.
Dick Welsh and his wife have lived in Park City for 24 years. “This is home. I don’t want to leave here.” But there are plenty of stories of parents, and older residents having to move home, or to Salt Lake City to receive the help they need, or due to the high cost of living. But Bill Becker wonders, “Why can’t we keep people here?”
“This project is not going anywhere until one steps in,” says Becker, a retired D.C. attorney who fishes every day during the summer, and skis every day in the winter. Park City Mayor Andy Beerman says they’re trying to work with Summit County to address these needs. “They’re seeking 5 acres of land for a facility,” says Beerman, adding that there just isn’t that much land left in town, not to mention exorbitant land prices. “It’s a growing need in the community,” he adds. This year, Park City has initiated a social equity program to assist marginalized communities, such as teens, Latinos, LGBT people, and women. And that also includes seniors. “These are quality of life issues,” says Park City Manager Diane Foster. And Park City is now planning to move the existing senior center (one of three in the county) into a newer facility.
But after discussions with Park City and Summit County, Becker, Freer and Welsh are seeking an operator and developer to build a facility. But they are all confident that it’s going to happen, and are working hard to make it so, because with any luck, everyone will need somewhere, someday, to spend their final years.