One of Episcopal Retirement Services' most important long-term goals is to help Cincinnati and the surrounding Tristate area become one of the most age-friendly regions in the nation. That's not something we can do all by ourselves.
We need help from the business community. We need help from local governments. And we need help from people like you.
Today, let's talk about some of the strategies that we all can use to promote positive aging and help Greater Cincinnati lead the way in challenging elder stereotypes.
1. Provide more financial security for vulnerable seniors.
For seniors who worked in well-paying careers, received excellent benefits and saved well, retirement income may not be a source of worry. For others — especially those seniors who were undereducated in youth and worked in low-skill jobs — financial insecurity is a significant source of stress.
According to a study released late last year by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), a 35-nation bloc of mostly developed and developing nations of which the United States is a founding member, the gap between wealthy and low-income seniors is wider in America than it is for all but two of the organization's other member nations. Only Mexico's and Chile's elder population exhibit more wealth disparity.
Positive aging is dependent not only on seniors’ physical health, but also on their mental, emotional, financial and spiritual health as well. And we know that, when financial health is poor, the other four areas suffer as a result.
How can businesses help? They can hire seniors. Americans are working longer into their traditionally-accepted "retirement years" than ever before. Some seniors want to work; some need to work to make ends meet.
And many of these older workers bring invaluable experience to the market — experience that could guide your business and help your younger employees develop faster, with fewer mistakes along the way.
2. Build a more robust safety net for our seniors.
At the same time, communities can work to put more programs in place to help those elders who are struggling.
Those resources could include Meals on Wheels programs, grocery delivery, door-to-door transportation services, subsidized bus and rail passes, free or low-cost health clinics, medication co-pay subsidies and more.
Here in Cincinnati, voters recently (and overwhelmingly) passed an increase for our local senior services levy, to shore up our existing programs and provide wider access to them. And that's a great start!
But, remember, senior resources don't all need to be funded by the public, either; the private sector could also work to put more non-profit or low-cost resources in place for our most vulnerable elders.
3. Improve seniors' access to health care.
The U.S. spends 2.5 times more than the average OECD nation on health care. And, contrary to what some political pundits preach, that's mostly private rather than public expenditure.
Even so, life expectancy has been falling across roughly a quarter of the country — especially among women — for more than 30 years. How is it that we're spending more and seeing negative results?
Part of the problem, we know, is wasteful spending within the health care system itself. Part of it is a lack of meaningful tort reform, which has passed the increasing costs of liability protection on to the American health care consumer.
And part of it is a widening gap in access to quality, affordable health care between the "haves" (relatively affluent suburbs, coastal communities and redeveloped urban areas) and the "have-nots" (economically distressed rural counties, and older, industrialized cities in the Midwest and South).
For seniors — especially for those who are suffering from serious and/or chronic illnesses — that lack of access to quality health care is a significant barrier to positive aging. To make Cincinnati completely age-friendly, we must find ways (public and private) to close the health care gap.
4. Build more affordable, quality senior housing.
We and our partners (from both the private and public sectors), are already working on it.
Since its inception, our Affordable Living by ERS initiative has brought 1,691 new and refurbished apartments onto the market for lower-income seniors in Cincinnati, Lexington, and numerous smaller communities in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.
We're not stopping there. Last year, we were awarded $15.9 million in tax credits from the State of Ohio to develop additional affordable senior living in Cincinnati and Dayton. But demand for senior housing still vastly exceeds supply in Ohio and Kentucky.
We need help from other non-profit organizations, from local and state governments, and from private citizens if we're going to significantly shrink the affordable senior housing gap.
What are you doing to promote positive aging?
We've taken a wider, community-based focus here. But positive aging starts at home. And there are plenty of things that seniors and their family caregivers can do to take a positive approach to aging.
And don't forget: the TriHealth Refresh Your Soul conference on positive aging is coming up in March, at Xavier University's Cintas Center. This one-day gathering of positive aging experts, senior health care professionals and inspirational speakers will help you to recharge and focus on what you can do at home to improve your outlook in retirement.
Go here to learn more about #RYS2018 and purchase your tickets today! All proceeds benefit Episcopal Retirement Services' non-profit Parish Health Ministry.