The following was posted on Cincinnati.com on December 14 and appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer on December 16.
The announced closure of the Over the Rhine Senior Center caught many off-guard.
But for those who serve older adults, the news was no surprise. The center’s loss of financial support from the city and the United Way follows a familiar pattern – it is a microcosm of the larger issue at hand. Despite the fact that they make up the largest segment of our population, seniors have become the forgotten population.
The social and charitable focus of corporations, foundations, municipalities, and even the United Way, has shifted from meeting the needs of society as a whole, to a microscopic focus on the health, welfare and educational needs of children.
We all agree that the health and well-being of our children is important, but the drain of funding away from older adults is hard to comprehend when you consider the size of the population and the strain it will place on unprepared communities.
Consider: Ohio has the sixth largest older adult population in the nation – 1.8 million people over the age of 65. By 2030, in 81 of Ohio’s 88 counties, one-quarter of the population will be age 60 or older. In two-thirds of counties, 30-50 percent will be age 60 or older.
Imagine living in a community where half the population is age 60 and older. Do adequate housing and transportation options exist? Are there enough doctors? Are systems in place and funded so that older adults have opportunities to remain productive, healthy members of society?
The City of Cincinnati recently established the Golden Cincinnati Initiative to highlight the ways it is committed to becoming an age-friendly community and is seeking membership in AARP’s Age-Friendly Community network – a network where elected leaders have committed to building communities that are great places for people of all ages. On Nov. 28, operators of the Over the Rhine Senior Center announced they had purchased the center from the city and received a one-time disbursement of $50,000.
On the surface, it may appear that the problem has been solved. While these gestures are commendable, they offer little in the way of a long-term commitment to meeting the future needs of older adults who call the City of Cincinnati home.
Today, as money is allocated to revitalize neighborhoods for young professionals and families, and for sports stadiums and music venues, it is hard to find proof of our region’s concern or commitment to the well-being of older adults – our family members, friends and neighbors who built our cities, worked in our factories, taught our children and fought for our freedom.
This is not to say that communities and taxpayers do not recognize the need to help seniors stay connected to the communities they helped build. In Council on Aging’s five-county service area, taxpayers have approved senior services levies by large margins – most recently in Hamilton County by 72 percent of voters. These funds provide in-home care services to eligible seniors who are, in many cases, homebound. But the levies are not structured to meet all the needs that come with a rapidly-aging society. And, federal funding for home and community-based services through the Older Americans Act has been flat or declined in recent years.
If we want to hold our communities up as great places to live and grow old, then there must be a commitment to meeting the needs of all populations at the community level – including seniors. This will require all partners to come to the table to support seniors: the business community, foundations, the United Way and others. Shouldn’t those who have contributed so much to our society have the same opportunities to thrive as the rest of us?
Suzanne Burke is President and Chief Executive Officer of Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio (COA). COA is the Area Agency on Aging for southwestern Ohio and is responsible for planning, coordinating and administrating local, state and federally-funded programs and services for older adults, people with disabilities and caregivers who live in Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton and Warren counties.