My Turn: Daniel J. McKee: R.I. prepares for an aging population
Is Rhode Island prepared for 2030? By that year, nearly 100,000 more Rhode Islanders will be age 65; that’s about one out of every four residents of the state.
According to the 2017 Long Term Supports and Services Scorecard from AARP, SCAN and the Commonwealth Fund, Rhode Island lags far behind the other New England states and only ranks 32nd in the nation for long-term supports and services for the elderly. This report is a call to action for the state to pick up the pace on overhauling its long-term services and supports system and to make Rhode Island more elderly-friendly.
There is some good news. Under a 2014 mandate from the General Assembly, the Aging in Community Subcommittee of Rhode Island’s Long Term Care Coordinating Council researched current services and resources and prepared a strategic plan to promote aging in the community. The subcommittee inventoried services, conducted focus groups with 100 older adults across the state, interviewed key providers and researched best practices. It also identified the enormous contributions our older population makes to the state’s economy.
The $2.9 billion in Social Security benefits received by older Rhode Islanders each year results in $4.98 billion in economic output. The estimated 134,000 hours they provide as unpaid caregivers for family and friends is valued at $1.78 billion annually, and their volunteer efforts are estimated to be worth $149 million in service. These valuable economic and social contributions need to be recognized and nurtured.
The strategic plan recommends actions and plans for successful aging in the community based on its research and the World Health Organization’s domains for age-friendly communities. It highlights the importance of outdoor spaces, transportation, housing, social participation and inclusion, communication and information, civic participation, employment, community and health services, and economic security.
The Age-Friendly Rhode Island Coalition’s effort to help implement the plan, with the support of a Tufts Health Plan Foundation grant, kicked off in January. Our vision is to build a community that enables Rhode Islanders to live independently as we age, with the care, support and resources needed to foster health, well-being, social connectedness and a meaningful life.
Subgroups are working on individual domains, legislation was submitted to implement needed policy, and AARP is working with several Rhode Island communities to promote age-friendly activities. And age-friendly activity often benefits all ages: for example, sidewalks that are good for wheelchairs, canes and walkers are also good for strollers. Furthermore, spreading information about community and support services helps virtually all of us — our multigenerational families, grandparents raising grandchildren, and caregivers of both the young and the old.
Like other states, Rhode Island recognizes that older adults prefer home- and community-based supports and services over institutional care, and those preferred services are generally less costly for consumers and taxpayers. Following the lead of top-ranked states like Minnesota and Washington, we need to further our efforts to rebalance our long-term care system to support aging in the community.
Rhode Islanders know the Ocean State is a great place to live. As our population ages, there is still work to be done to ensure the state is a place young and old alike want to call home.
We encourage Rhode Islanders to become familiar with the work of Age-Friendly Rhode Island. Working together, we can improve our long-term supports and services system and build an age-friendly state.
Information about Age-Friendly Rhode Island and the Aging in Community Subcommittee reports and strategic plan is available at: agefriendlyri.org.
Daniel J. McKee, a Democrat, is lieutenant governor of Rhode Island.