New York State ranks fourth in the nation in the number of individuals age 60 and older that call our state home. It is estimated that by 2030, one out of four New Yorkers will fall into this age group.
In general, Americans are living longer and staying healthier than previous generations. But ageist attitudes often prevail, and policies that disregard the needs of older adults are too common. This has been clearer than ever during the COVID-19 pandemic, when so often we hear the dangers of the virus dismissed as “only affecting old people.”
It’s time to rethink how we approach aging, and affirm that people over 60 are valued, respected, and deserve to live in healthy, safe communities that meet their needs. It’s time for New York to launch a comprehensive, cross-sector Master Plan for Aging.
Building on Existing Age-Friendly Work
New York State is already leading several admirable initiatives to improve the lives of older adults. In 2017, AARP designated New York as the first Age-Friendly State in the country. Since then, the state’s age-friendly work to date includes the Health Across All Policies initiative, a collaborative approach that integrates age-friendly considerations across all state sectors; Age-Friendly Health Systems, an effort to ensure health systems use shared evidence-based approaches that meet the needs of older adults; and the establishment of Age-Friendly Centers of Excellence in counties across the state to help local governments incorporate healthy, age-friendly community principles into all relevant policies, plans, ordinances and programs.
The age-friendly framework is based on the idea that building a safe, healthy community where all people can age with dignity requires a collaborative and cross-sector approach that recognizes how social factors have an impact on health.
Still, there is a great amount of work to be done in New York to improve how we care for older adults.
The long-term and home care industries are in dire condition. These providers have faced staffing shortages for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has brought those shortages to crisis levels due to low wages, stressful work environments and the risk of the virus. Many of these providers are also facing financial struggles and reduced Medicaid reimbursement.
The deaths of more than 12,000 older adults in nursing homes from COVID-19, and previous leadership’s lack of transparency in handling that crisis, have deeply shaken the public’s faith in how New York State cares for older adults.
Racial health disparities continue to have an impact on older adults across the state. Research led by AARP NY showed that older New Yorkers of color faced more housing and food insecurity than their white counterparts during the pandemic, and nursing homes with more Black and Hispanic residents were at greater risk for the virus. Any plan to support our aging population must recognize the specific needs of historically underserved communities.
What is a Master Plan for Aging?
By 2030, 1 in 5 Americans will be age 65 or older. People are living longer, but have less access to resources or caregiver supports as they age compared to previous generations.
According to the SCAN Foundation, an increasing number of states are committing to comprehensive plans that guide policy choices and investments with the goal of ensuring that their aging populations can live with dignity in the settings of their choice. As roughly 70 percent of Americans age 65 and older will need at least some support as they age, states such as Colorado, California, Texas and Massachusetts have taken the bold step to develop a clearly articulated Master Plan for Aging.
A Master Plan for Aging is an historic effort to develop a comprehensive roadmap for system-wide changes in how services are coordinated, delivered, and financed to better meet the needs of the state’s older adults and their families. It serves as an outcome-oriented blueprint for all sectors to promote healthy aging and prepare New York for future demographic changes.
These plans often include planning for 10 or more years; are generally led by a governor with other executive and legislative leaders; and are developed to guide restructuring of state and local policy, programs, and funding geared toward aging well in the community.
The SCAN Foundation outlines the following five elements for a successful Master Plan for Aging:
Each of the states that have embarked on a Master Plan for Aging have tailored their plans to meet the specific needs of their population, but most address common issues such as housing, transportation, technology and workforce needs. Community engagement and stakeholder input from across several sectors are key parts of plan development.
A Healthier New York for Older Adults is a Healthier State for All
New York is faced with the choice: we can continue our current approach to serving the aging population, or we can create a visionary, long-term plan to affirm that people over 60 are valued, respected and deserve to live in healthy, safe communities that meet their needs.
A key benefit to this method? It doesn’t help only one age group. The challenges that older adults face are strongly linked to many other issues. In our current system, the role of the family caregiver—a role that is most often filled by women—is largely undervalued and unsupported, and as a result, caregivers often see long-term impacts on their financial, professional, physical and mental well-being.
Racial equity and aging issues are closely related as well. A majority of direct care workers are people of color. Improving working conditions and pay in that industry could benefit both care workers and the older adults who receive care.
In fact, programs such as AARP’s Livable Communities initiatives show that policies that improve the lives of older adults create better, safer, healthier places to live for people of any age.
Considering its previous age-friendly work, New York seems poised to join the ranks of states that are proactively meeting the needs of older adults and, in doing so, acknowledging that a well-supported and respected aging population is not a burden, but an asset.