OUR OPINION: A strategy for state’s aging population

We are all growing older.

That simple statement has a much more complicated and potentially darker meaning for emerging members of the senior population.

Missouri, much like the rest of the nation, is aging.

By 2034, Missouri's older adults will outnumber our children for the first time in our history.

For a state that already falls short of providing the ideal volume of services seniors require, the availability of services are likely to only get worse as the ratio of seniors to children flips.

Mindy Ulstad, chief of the Missouri Bureau of Seniors Program, puts it this way: "As time goes on, they expect for older adults to greatly outnumber children. We know now there aren't enough services for the older adults we have. So if we don't start preparing, we're going to be playing catch-up, and we don't want to do that. So we're preparing now, while we can."

The preparation hinges on a Missouri Master Plan on Aging that was launched by Gov. Mike Parson, who has directed the development of an advisory council to develop it.

The council is to review and assess current aging services in Missouri, coordinate at least 10 listening sessions with stakeholders in regions defined by Area Agencies on Aging, complete a statewide senior citizen and adults with disabilities needs assessment, establish priorities for each state agency and develop the state's master plan on aging.

The approach is expansive and ambitious, and the intent is for the master plan to be a blueprint for how the state will address the impending crisis.

The master plan on aging must be a report that is going to be implemented, said Laura Newland, director of Alvarez and Marcel Public Sector Services, a Washington, D.C., consulting firm helping to develop the plan.

"We spend a lot of time on reports, most of which are only read by the people who put them together," she said. "We want the master plan to be a community effort. It is a plan, but also a conversation that we will be continuing throughout the year."

The council will start out with seven subcommittees: transportation and mobility; housing and aging in place; whole-person health; employment and volunteerism; safety and security; family caregiving; and long-term services and supports.

After the report, which has a deadline for completion of Dec. 31, 2025, is completed, the next major step is to ask state government for funding.

That step, while not insurmountable, will be a challenge for the state to meet. Actions today should be tempered by the realization of that challenge we will be facing in a short amount of time.

As every senior can attest, time flies as you get older. We commend the purpose-driven work that had begun and encourage them to work expeditiously to implement a strategy that will address Missouri's changing population.

-- News Tribune