Agency attempts to fill important gap for elderly

PORT ANGELES — Visualize Clallam County as “an elder-friendly community.”

Now contemplate the actual lifestyle of old people in the area.

What’s missing from this second picture could become reality through an ambitious effort called Community Advocates for Rural Elders, or CARE, a program of the Olympic Area Agency on Aging (O3A) and other organizations.

“Wow, here’s a way to make it look like we want it to look,” says Sheryl Lowe, project director, speaking of how elders receive health care and social support.

“What would you like to see?”

“We want to have people say what works, what doesn’t, and what’s needed,” adds Barbara Clarke, project director.

CARE’s goals include:

* Reforming how citizens and service providers think about and serve elderly people.

* Planning a health care system where services place citizens at the center.

The CARE Partnership combines O3A, Senior Information and Assistance, Olympic Medical Center, United Way, Peninsula Community Mental Health Center, Clallam County Health and Human Resources, Department, Olympic Medical Center Home Health, the Jamestown S’Klallam tribe, elderly citizens, and tribal leaders.

It’s funded by $150,000 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the nation’s largest charity devoted to health and health care.

It was one of only 11 programs chosen from almost 500 applicants.

After 18 months, CARE could receive a $750,000, four-year grant to implement the improvements.

It’s just in time for Baby Boomers.

“They want an old age far different from their parents and grandparents,” Lowe says.

Roy Walter, Olympic AAA director, notes that 27 percent of Clallam County residents — 17,000 people — are 60 or older.

In and around Sequim, almost half of the residents are at least 65.

Meanwhile, more elders are moving into the area, young people are moving out, and agencies that care for the elderly are competing for a shrinking pot of funds.

Reforming this overstressed and splintered system will take a village to make it successful.

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