If there is one thing that the recent discussions about the proposed skilled nursing facility for veterans has made plain, it is that the local medical establishment is strained providing elder care.

Whether or not Buffalo is eventually the home of the proposed skilled nursing facility, it is undeniable that our community’s population is aging, and that aging population will require new and different medical and personal care.

According to the American Society on Aging, people living to age 65 in the United States will have an average life expectancy of an additional 20 years. Less exciting is that even if remaining independent and living at home, seven out of 10 of us will likely need assistance for three of those years – that could mean anything from in-home assistance with meal preparation and bathing to assisted living to nursing home care.

Johnson County is likely to feel this need for elderly care acutely as our county’s population is aging faster than both the state and national average, according to the recently completed socioeconomic profile of Johnson County. 

Throughout the discussions about the proposed facility, stakeholders have pointed out the gaps in care available locally, specifically limited access to medical specialists, as well as the shortage of workers to staff caregiving jobs. We should view this as an opportunity to be proactive in creating the kind of systems, infrastructure and facilities that will be required to care for our aging population.

Spurred by the proposed skilled nursing facility, members of the medical community and hospital board have met with members of government and other stakeholders. We hope these discussions can be a catalyst for ongoing conversations about how our community can care for the elderly in an effective, dignified manner.

Doing so will require us to think much more broadly about elder care and community approaches to elder care. We will have to think of elder care beyond the medical field and consider approaches that integrate community and clinical care for services that produce the greatest health benefits for the dollars spent.

Our community leaders must think of elder care as a spectrum of services that aims to keep people both mentally and physically healthy and integrated into the community. This includes everything from the BATS bus, which provides independence for many seniors, to services provided by the Buffalo Senior Center and the YMCA, to nursing home care at Amie Holt Care Center.

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