Editorials

Why Kansas and Missouri aren’t equipped to handle an aging population

The average Missourian lives 30 years longer than 100 years ago. One in four Missourians will be over 65 in 10 years.
The average Missourian lives 30 years longer than 100 years ago. One in four Missourians will be over 65 in 10 years. Big Stock Photo

Proof that our public policy hasn’t caught up to the needs our aging population abounds.

Oh sure, we all give lip service to respecting our wise elders and pay tribute to the “Greatest Generation.” We say that we should provide a safety net for our seniors. But our policies don’t match up with those platitudes.

When it comes to measurable commitments, society often fails to value and care for people as they enter their later decades. In Missouri, a board managing senior services hasn’t met for at least three years and possibly far longer, said Randall Williams, director of Department of Health and Senior Services.

The last record the state can cite is a phone meeting in January 2014. This, despite the fact that the average Missourian lives an 30 years longer than they did 100 years ago. One in four Missourians will be over 65 in 10 years.

Seniors in Kansas aren’t faring any better.

Federal officials slammed the state recently for failing to follow up on flagged problems in nursing homes. The problem was partly a matter of under-staffing inspectors, and the audit found that no one was actually checking outcomes in about half the cases handled in 2014.

And now, a program that provides daily hot meals for seniors in Kansas City soon will begin dropping off frozen entrees only once a week. The change makes sense from an efficiency standpoint. It will yield cost savings that will allow more elderly shut-ins to receive meals.

But it ignores the fact that the program provided more than just food. The workers who delivered the hot meals also provided the elderly with other intangible benefits, including daily human contact and even friendship.

Everywhere we turn, there is more evidence that seniors are too often an afterthought and that our institutions simply aren’t equipped to meet their growing needs.

In both Missouri and Kansas, lawmakers must step up efforts to plan for a graying population. From ensuring that nursing homes are safe environments to providing basic services for seniors, both states are falling short. While government has a large role to play, so, too, do community groups. Nonprofit organizations, churches, and other groups should help fill in some of the gaps that are becoming increasingly apparent.

The elderly ought to be a consideration in every facet of public and private planning, be it transportation, housing, social services or public spaces. In virtually all settings, we should ask, “Who isn’t seated at the table and yet needs to be considered in the decisions that will be made here?”

Consistently, the answer should be “seniors.”

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