(CHroniCles) The National Population Projections released by the U.S. Census Bureau project that by 2034, there will be 77.0 million people age 65 years and older, or one-and-a half times as many as were reported in 2016 (49.2 million). For the first time, adults will outnumber the nation’s children under the age of 18. By 2030, 1 in every 5 U.S. residents will be of retirement age.
As the country prepares for this demographic milestone, community health centers will be challenged to care for greater numbers of older adults, with more complex and pressing health care needs. Data from the UDS show that health centers are already responding to this demographic shift. In 2018, older adults accounted for 9.6% of those served by community health centers, or 2.6 million people. [HRSA UDS]. Reflecting this shift, Medicare is an increasingly important payer for health centers, with the number of health center Medicare patients doubling from 2005-2014. In 2018, 2.7 million health center patients, or 9.7%, were covered by Medicare and an additional 1 million (3.7%) were Medicare/Medicaid dual-eligible. [HRSA UDS].
To get a bird’s-eye view of how several health centers are meeting new demands for care, we reached out to colleagues in California, Vermont and Illinois known for elder-focused care. While each has unique programs and faces local challenges, each has found a way to forge connections with elders in their communities and to offer older patients high-quality, empathic care. [Ed: With so much going on at health centers as demographics and approaches change, the next article in this series will look specifically at PACE, or Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly.]
LifeLong Medical Care (Berkley, CA)
LifeLong Medical Care was focused from the outset on addressing the unmet need for health services in Berkeley’s senior community. Dr. Marty Lynch, who joined LifeLong in 1980, is the center’s Executive Director and co-founder of NACHCs Sub-committee on Healthy Aging. He explained that the health center was founded by a group of Gray Panthers, senior advocates who realized that the area’s growing low-income aging population did not have access to necessary medical services and decided to develop a place where older adults could receive support and quality health care. The Over 60 Health Center was there for the “folks who weren't always welcome in the normal private practice offices. “Folks who were poor maybe they didn't speak English, maybe were African American whatever it might be and they didn't fit in and the doctors didn't want to see them”Folks who were poor maybe they didn't speak English, maybe were African American whatever it might be and they didn't fit in and the doctors didn't want to see them.”