Special Reports

Advocates say county needs improvements to system serving seniors

The county will have to improve its system serving seniors and people with disabilities if it’s to meet their future needs, advocates say.

“We will have to significantly magnify that system in the future when the boomers start getting to 80 and 85,” said Joyce Ellen Lippman, director of the Area Agency on Aging.

“Hopefully, by that time, we will have filled in the gaps and slowly expand service to meet the needs. But it won’t happen solely from the public dollar.”

In its most recent annual report, the Adult Services Policy Council of San Luis Obispo County said that “current community-based services cannot accommodate the demand for services with proposed budget restrictions’’ from the local, state and federal government.

Kathleen Bellefontaine, chairperson for the San Luis Obispo County Commission on Aging, said the community has had a long history of being proactive in solving and meeting the needs of seniors through nonprofit agencies. She cited such groups as Senior Connections, the Economic Opportunity Commission of San Luis Obispo County’s Home Repair, senior nutrition programs, and senior peer counseling.

But Bellefontaine said that funding for these programs has declined and volunteers are often scarce.

“My advice to baby boomers is to become the advocates and volunteers for these experienced, established agencies,’’ she said. “Ask not what the county can do for you; but rather what you can do for the county.’’ Charles Carlson, a Los Osos resident who works with the agency and the Commission on Aging, said he’s participating in a project that will identify how cities in the county can become more senior friendly.

Senior-friendly communities, he said, are those that have reasonably priced housing, safe neighborhoods (sidewalks and free from crime), accessible healthcare and good local transportation. These communities also involve seniors in the planning and are in step with the idea that senior-friendly communities are also child friendly.

Carlson has looked closely at cities like Lompoc, which has a proposal to build a new senior complex in the middle of town. He’s also worked with the city of Paso Robles on its efforts to redevelop downtown and make it safer for pedestrians.

“We’re trying to get city planners and community planners to think about what the needs of the seniors are…to get out and walk safely on the streets, meet with people safely in the park, get to the doctor or grocery store within a reasonable distance of their home,’’ Carlson said.