Guest Opinion: The future of aging in Ashland

    A tsunami resulting from the rupture of the Cascadia Subduction Zone may or may not impact us in our lifetimes. The so-called Silver Tsunami, however, reached Ashland far earlier than in the nation, the state and even the county. We are not prepared.

    • Ashland is a retirement mecca. The numbers of older adults in our city will grow.

    • Those living longer with chronic illness means Medicare and supplemental insurance pricing will increase and benefits contract.

    • Ashland housing stock consists of many older homes with stairs, narrow hallways and poor lighting. Those who can’t drive may not be served by a bus line or cannot walk. Fall risk increases. Affordable rental housing is limited and most lack age-friendly design.

    • Family supports may be distant; the pool of paid caregivers is below demand and shrinking. Residential care options in Ashland are limited; waiting lists already exist at some and Medicaid-funded beds are in short supply.

    • Those on fixed incomes cannot absorb increases in cost of living. Public money is stretched thin. Those facing long-term care costs of $5,000-$15,000 per month rapidly become impoverished.

    Poor elder care affects not just older individuals. Family resources become strained supporting parents and grandparents. Employers lose workers and productivity decreases. Our taxes fund Medicaid long-term care.

    Farsighted local and state leaders recognized these emergent problems back in the mid '70s.

    The city of Ashland initiated the Ashland Senior Program to support frail and low-income elderly at risk of institutionalization to enable independent living at home.

    At the state level, Oregon began to decouple Medicaid funding from nursing home care, then the only option regardless of the level of care needed. Oregon negotiated a waiver with the federal government to direct money from the Older Americans Act for home- and community-based care.

    This brings us to the present situation with the Ashland Senior Program. It has served many through hosting the meals program, expert navigation to supports, social connections and recreational opportunities while creating an atmosphere of genuine warmth. As structured and funded, however, this program would not have been able to serve increasing numbers of older adults with more complex needs or to prevent or delay the development of need through additional programs. The process of restructuring has been rocky, to say the least, but includes strong citizen participation.

    There are challenges ahead in considering the extent to which the community is willing to support its aging citizens. Unchecked, the trends described could lead to stark public evidence of the consequences of frailty and poverty: more grandparents among the numbers of the homeless in the Plaza. Or there could be an exodus of elders from our community. At least for now, these citizens have had the means to support the local economy and volunteer in and donate to our organizations. Younger adults find themselves with debt-to-income ratios that disqualify them for a mortgage. With a glut of houses, prices might decline, but so would property tax revenues.

    We are not without resources:

    • University students who need housing while seniors live in houses with spare bedrooms and need financial or practical assistance.

    • A local hospital, OHSU nursing program and many health care providers that could assess health status and focus on preventive measures.

    • A Parks and Recreation program and many gyms to maintain fitness.

    • Faith-based communities who care for those within and without their communities; other nonprofits that assist with food and housing.

    • A thriving adult learning program that is supportive of those with reduced means and physical challenges.

    • A plethora of clubs and organizations that foster social connections and provide meaning and purpose through volunteer opportunities.

    • A local Area Agency on Aging that advocates for seniors, funds the Food & Friends program and provides navigation to essential services and benefits.

    • Ashland-based state legislators who recognize senior challenges and how these affect citizens of all ages.

    A framework is needed to mobilize these resources in an intentional, collaborative and strategic fashion. The question is whether the city of Ashland, either directly or through its Parks and Recreation program, will use our tax dollars to connect these resources through a restructured Ashland Senior Program.

    — Anne Bellegia is a member of the Ashland Senior Program Ad Hoc Committee. Email her at


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