Kavaler: Connecticut’s Next State Plan on Aging is Even More Important Now

Nearly three years ago, Connecticut adopted its State Plan on Aging to govern and guide how the state would respond to the needs and challenges of a growing older population. That plan expires at the end of September, and is to be replaced by a new policy framework.

Every state is required to develop a plan to direct policies and provide direction to organizations and agencies that are involved with a wide range of services for older citizens.

Last time around, Connecticut’s three-year plan was submitted to and then approved by the federal Department of Health and Human Services in August 2017. It took effect, as scheduled, on October 1 and has been the state’s guiding policy document. We’re at the doorstep again for adoption of the new plan, but in a very different and rapidly changing world.

Early this year, prior to the pandemic’s arrival, the state agency responsible — the Department of Aging and Disability Services — held a handful of public gatherings seeking ideas and insight. As its just completed 69-page draft plan for the next three year plan points out, “much has transpired in Connecticut since the last State Plan on Aging,” and this is our “opportunity to truly reflect, adjust and move forward.”

Few would disagree that the need for a comprehensive, integrated state policy document has never been greater. The numbers underscore the imperative, and the first-hand experiences of families all across our state in recent years — and recent months — provides additional evidence of why Connecticut needs an evidence-based, forward-looking document.

Connecticut’s population is among the oldest in the nation, most recently ranking 7th among the states.

Last month, the U.S. Census Bureau pointed out that in 2010, the dependency ratio for the nation as a whole was 49.0, meaning that for every 100 working-age people there were 49 dependent-age people. By 2019, this dependency ratio increased to 53.7, driven by the growth of the 65-and-older population. Every state in the Northeast had a median age higher than that of the nation.

The number of older Americans is projected to more than double from 40.3 million in 2010 to 85.7 million in 2050, while their share of the total population is projected to increase from 13 percent to 22 percent during the same period, according to a report issued by the Census Bureau and the National Institute on Aging.

As the Connecticut draft plan’s introduction points out, “undeniably, every community in Connecticut, minus a few outliers, is aging quickly.”  

The percentage of residents age 65+ in many of Connecticut’s shoreline communities reflect the trend: Old Lyme, 28%; Lyme, 32%; East Lyme, 22%; Old Saybrook, 25%; Deep River, 19%; Essex, 31%; Chester, 25%; Stonington, 25%; and Waterford, 22%.  The data, developed for AdvanceCT, is as of 2017, when 16% of the state’s population was age 65 or older.

The State Plan draft goes on to explain, “the population shift broken down by age creates a dramatic depiction of the Connecticut population. Between 2010 and 2040, Connecticut’s age 65 and older population is on pace to increase by 57%. However, the projected growth of the population between the age of 20–64 is less than 2%, and the age 18 and under population is projected to decline by 7%.”

That represents a seismic shift in population demographics, already underway and accelerating. Connecticut particularly needs to respond effectively because so much is at stake.

Many voices should be heard before Connecticut’s new plan is finalized, and families should be among those who have an opportunity to share their experiences and suggestions — they know as well as anyone when things work well and when they don’t. We are a Land of Steady Habits but also a State of Innovation, and our plan should reflect both.

The state’s draft Plan describes as among its over-arching goals: “Empower older individuals to reside in the community setting of their choice.” As many as 90% of people age 65 and over would prefer to stay in their own homes as they age, according to national surveys.  Recent events have highlighted the value of this choice, and it is likely that more families will want this option.

Most of us have spent more time at home than ever before these past few months, and we’ve experienced tangible benefits we hadn’t previously thought much about. We have also read about — or experienced in our families — the outsized risk in some facilities, circumstances now the subject of a state investigation.

The decisions now being made to finalize the parameters of a new State Plan on Aging are important not only for the here and now, but for the years to come, whatever they may bring. We need to be as prepared, responsive and comprehensive as we possibly can be.

Without diminishing the necessary focus on ensuring the safety of all state residents for the duration of the pandemic, and the imperative to respond effectively to the acute need for racial justice and equity, we need to devote a share of our collective time and attention to the state’s next Plan on Aging. The residents of our state, of every age, across all demographics, deserve nothing less.

Bernard Kavaler is Managing Principal of Express Strategies, a Connecticut public relations consulting firm, and Managing Editor of Connecticut by the Numbers. His career began in broadcast and print journalism.

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