Across the Finger Lakes region, the area’s fast-growing older adult population is facing concerning health challenges that are leading to glaring health inequities and reduced life expectancy. After a hiatus driven by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Sage II Commission was convened by Common Ground Health in 2022 to produce the newly released SAGE II Report: Planning for the older adult population in the Finger Lakes region, 2023.
The report projects that the 65+ population in the region will grow by 44 percent by 2040. It projects a decrease in the population of all other age groups. To meet the needs of this growing population, the Sage II Commission analyzed regional trends and discussed the numerous challenges facing adults 65 years and older in the Finger Lakes region. The Commission’s recommendations updated the comprehensive long-range plan developed by the first Sage Commission in 2011.
“Twelve years ago, we brought together the Sage Commission to look at how well our region is able to meet the needs of the growing older adult population, and the community took immediate action to address the 2011 report’s recommendations,” said Wade Norwood, CEO of Common Ground. “Unfortunately, as the world shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw the most vulnerable of our neighbors struggle to afford food and housing, while trying to stay healthy in the face of a deadly virus. Our nursing homes were pushed to the brink.”
The report also notes that the pandemic put tremendous social and economic strain on the systems and resources available to support the region’s older adult population. This is especially true of older adults ineligible for Medicaid and unable to afford services. The report puts forward 10 new recommendations, and local leaders believe they are achievable.
“It takes political will, cost savings and private/public partnerships to move a plan into action. We have all three,” said Ann Marie Cook, president/CEO of Lifespan and Co-chair of the SAGE II Commission, which is convened by Common Ground. “We have already begun discussions with political leaders about our report and are pleased to see aligned priorities between our report and the New York State Master Plan for Aging. Our report includes proven cost-effective practices already in use in our community. The recommendations in the report originate from collaborators including multi-stakeholder private and public partners.”
The report’s 9 priority areas for improvement are:
- Combat ageism
- Expand critical partnerships to support equitable systemic change and prevention
- Educate and support caregivers
- Increase the integration of medical and social services.
- Fund proven programs and services
- Increase affordable and accessible housing
- Expand accessible transportation services
- Retain and grow the health care and social services workforce
- Use partnerships to rebalance and redesign long-term care infrastructure
The recommendations are made all that more urgent by the growth of the older adult population in the Finger Lakes and the decline in younger adults in the region. This trend that will only grow more pronounced by 2040 and create a large shortage of caregivers for older adults. Between 2015 and 2040, the adult population between the ages of 65 and 84 will have grown by 34% (from 180,528 to 241,761). During the same period, the adult population over 85 years old will double in the region (from 31,128 to 62,722). The population between the ages of 45 and 64 will shrink by 13%.
Population Projections & Percentage Change by Age Group - Finger Lakes Region*
*Data from Cornell University (2018). Cornell Program on Applied Demographics County Projections Explorer.
This burgeoning population of seniors will have unique – and unmet - social services needs.
“Poverty in older adults is widespread throughout the Finger Lakes region,” said Triciajean Jones, director of the Ontario County Office for the Aging. “Many of the safety net supports are based on the federal poverty level, but we know that there are many people just above this line who do not qualify for these supports. They are struggling to make choices and have input into their own futures. Too often there are forces that stop older adults from making choices, but you treat people right when you offer them a say over where and how they are going to live.”
“Whenever we lose one of the elders of the community, it’s the equivalent of a library burning down,” said Norwood. “Our data shows that we are losing our older adults unnecessarily early and we are being robbed of their wisdom and experience. This is simply because of access to resources.”
Access the report at www.commongroundhealth.org/SageReport .
Learn more about the Sage II report with our report video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HFa9larTjAY.
View pictures and video from the press conference here: https://flhsa.smugmug.com/Data/Sage-II-press-conference/n-5wjgW9/i-23KJFKF .