FY 2019 Report to Commissioners
AREA COUNCIL ON AGING
ANNUAL REPORT TO COMMISSIONERS
The Area Council on Aging (ACA) is a Commissioner-appointed Board whose purpose is to advise the County Commissioners and Chief of Aging on issues of relevance to older adults residing in Charles County. The ACA meets during the months of September-June, with the meetings in December and June given to networking with seniors and other Councils on issues important to all. Part of the mission of the ACA is also to develop awareness and understanding of problems and concerns of the senior citizen population of the county, and to apprise the Commissioners of those problems and concerns. In support of this mission, the Area Council on Aging held town hall meetings at the Indian Head (March 14), Nanjemoy (April 11), and Waldorf (May 9) Senior Centers to request feedback on concerns of the seniors, and also feedback on what services were provided and helpful. The meetings were well-attended by a broad cross-section of seniors.
Below is a synopsis of the major concerns voiced by the seniors at these meetings. They seem to fall along the main areas of concern for all seniors: transportation, housing, and healthcare, but in addition to general concerns, the seniors did voice specific issues.
Transportation. All the seniors at the centers indicated that transportation was a concern and problem for them. The types of concerns were varied, but overall transportation seems to be an issue.
Indian Head. Transportation issues took most of the discussion time at Indian Head. While transportation to the center was not an issue, the seniors indicated that other type of transportation issues were a problem for them. While they were overall complimentary of the VanGo system, and the drivers, they had concerns about the routes and timing and also about the lack of adequate transportation options for keeping doctor appointments, both in and out of the county. Currently there is no transportation available if you need to go to a doctor outside of the county and this is an issue for seniors with limited mobility and no other means of transportation. While the county does have a good cross-section of doctors, specialists and hospitals, in this age of specialization, referrals are often out of county. Another concern was the length of time it could take to go to the doctor using the on-demand system. Seniors indicated that it often took many hours to get picked up, dropped off, and then picked up and returned home. An additional concern they voiced was where VanGo picks up, particularly at the senior apartments in Bryans Road and La Plata. Many seniors have limited mobility and pick up points are often difficult to navigate, causing a personal safety concern.
Nanjemoy. At the Nanjemoy center, the major concern seemed to be transportation to the center from their homes as there is no subscription service currently available and they must use either the fixed-route system or the on-demand system to travel to the center. This lack of transportation limits the number of seniors that can come to the center daily, restricting the number of days a week they participate. Since the center provides a hot lunch meal, and for many this is the major meal of the day, this is a concern both from a socialization standpoint (many of the seniors live alone) and a health standpoint (lack of adequate nutrition). It has been established that approximately 13 additional seniors would come to the center daily if there was a subscription bus available to pick them up and take them home. As this is a rural area, those currently using the fixed route system must walk up to ½ mile in the weather and wait for the bus. One senior who is 83 and walks with a cane currently does this daily. The average age of the seniors is approximately 78 years.
Waldorf. Due to the more urban nature of Waldorf, the seniors seemed happy with the transportation both for getting around Waldorf and getting to the center. Transportation outside the county for doctor using the on-demand system in the county, did, however, seem to be an issue for them as well.
Housing. Both the seniors in Indian Head and Waldorf indicated that affordable, well-maintained housing was an issue. In Indian Head access and oversight of repairs and maintenance was also an issue. It was established that much of the housing in the Indian Head area is privately owned and therefore not under county oversight, however the problem does exist. In Waldorf the seniors specifically mentioned the rents rising every year, while they did not have a comparable rise in income.
Healthcare. Only the Waldorf seniors specifically mentioned healthcare, but their concerns centered around the problems faced by many seniors across the country: lack of dental and vision insurance, and the high cost of prescription drugs. While the seniors at the other centers visited were more focused on other issues, it is likely an issue for them as well.
Looking to the future.
As we continue to search for opportunities and ways to assist one of the most vulnerable groups of citizens, our seniors, several areas that could be explored appear to affect seniors throughout the county.
Transportation. It might be relevant to explore how the on-demand service works and specifically how it could be improved so that it does not take seniors all day to go to one doctor’s appointment. While it is understood that on-demand is not a taxi service, it is the only means of transportation available to some seniors. This may not be an issue that can be resolved, but perhaps if it was revisited some new information might help to alleviate some of the problem. Additional funding for more buses that would make shorter routes might also help resolve the issue.
The University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center was recently awarded a $26,000 grant from the Rural Maryland Council (RMC). UM Charles Regional is earmarking the funds for a pilot program called, “Transportation to Wellness Project” that provides eligible patients with free transportation home from the hospital or to post-hospitalization medical appointments.
The goals of the program include allowing patients to return home from the hospital as soon as they are medically discharged, reducing the rate of post-hospitalization appointments missed or canceled due to transportation barriers, and lessening the burden and economic hardship placed on caregivers and family members.
Since our town hall meetings, the ACA has been apprised of a pilot program called “Wheels to Wellness” that will begin in the near future at the UM Charles Regional Medical Center in La Plata and will coordinate with the UM Charles Regional Medical Center as part of the RMC grant. Wheels to Wellness is designed to provide rides to patients who need follow up doctor visits but have no transportation alternatives. This transportation program sounds like it would alleviate some of the issues of getting to specific doctor appointments and if it could be expanded countywide, it would be a tremendous help to seniors The ACA will continue to help and look for innovative ways to assist our seniors with transportation.
Howard County has begun a ride share program that addresses the need to get Senior Citizens to doctor appointments. Research on how the Howard County program is structured, and what its costs and limitations are, might make it a feasible option for Charles County in the future. If it were possible to institute a similar program in Charles County, this might help the seniors in both Indian Head and those using the on-demand service and having to spend most of the day going to one appointment.
St. Mary’s County has had a very successful program for about 12 years. This program differs from the Howard County program is that the local government runs the program, rather than a non-profit.
All these different avenues look promising and the ACA will continue to explore options and advise the Commissioners of our findings.
Senior Center Facilities. The Indian Head seniors would love a larger center. Their current center is very small, consisting of one large room and one very small conference-type room. All activities must take place in the one room. The building is designated an historical building, having once been the post office, and any expansion would have to be approved by the historical society. It is also located on a very small parcel of land and shares a parking lot with the Indian Head base, so expansion is not really a viable option. There are currently empty spaces in Indian Head that could be converted into a new Senior Center. The ACA understands that the Commissioners are cognizant of the need for a new center in Indian Head and are working to explore the possibility of establishing one. The ACA stands ready to work with the Commissioners in this endeavor.
Senior Housing. Affordable, well-maintained housing is an issue for seniors everywhere, but for those in more rural or more expensive urban areas, it is an almost insurmountable problem. Living on a fixed income where housing takes up 50% or more of your income can be daunting. As mentioned above, there are many empty buildings in some of these areas. Rather than staying vacant, is there a means to turn those empty buildings into affordable housing for seniors, those with disabilities or the homeless? Many areas are exploring alternative communities which encompass several different age and ability groups. Again the ACA would be happy to explore possible options if the Commissioners would like their input.
Education for Seniors. It was apparent from our meetings, particularly the Waldorf meeting where healthcare was discussed, that information thought to be well-disseminated had not reached as many seniors as we had hoped. The dissemination of information is crucial to seniors being aware of the options they currently have available. In a county with many citizens in rural areas, getting the information where it needs to go can sometimes seem like an insurmountable task.
During the FY 2020 year, the ACA plans to concentrate its energies on specific goals in the areas of transportation, communication, and housing, which we believe are goals for the Commissioners as well. We look forward to sharing our ideas with the Commissioners in the future. If there are specific thoughts the Commissioners would like to share so we can work in joint, we would be glad to hear from you.
The Council would like to thank the Commissioners for this opportunity to share our findings and ideas with them. We hope they will help us make our County one of the most “senior friendly” counties in the state.
Area Council on Aging
Kenneth Gordon, Chairman
Linda Stansbury, Vice Chairman
Rachelle Andrews-Mobley, Secretary
 Our solution. Patuxent Commons. Howard County Autism Society. See www.howard-autism.org/housing-initiative and www.ptxcommons.org. See also Making the case for cottage neighborhoods. Lerner, Michelle. The Washington Post. July 25, 2019. https://www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/making-the-case-for-cottage-neighborhoods/2019/07/24/8817f43a-7bde-11e9-8bb7-0fc796cf2ec0_story.html