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WNC Business

Businesses and organizations advocating for a high quality of retiree life in NC

Oct 03, 2023 11:07AM ● By Randee Brown

The NC Coalition on Aging comprises 100 organizations including the NC Justice Center, trade associations, healthcare facility associations, and home and hospice associations. The member organizations are also active in public policy work that aligns with ensuring the retirement-aged population enjoys a good quality of life as they age. They see the needs of advocating for older adults, and help provide funds to keep the Coalition’s work moving forward.

“We welcome the opportunities to work with businesses and private industries that would like to help contribute,” Executive Director Heather Burkhardt said. “We need to let others see the importance and value of this segment of the population, as they are often overlooked.”

NC is an Age-Friendly State, one of only 10 in the country (plus the US Virgin Islands). This AARP designation recognizes preparedness for a growing senior population based on a World Health Organization framework of toolkits and community plans.

Currently ranking as the state with the ninth highest population of individuals ages 65 and older, the growing aging population brings opportunities to North Carolina, according to Burkhardt. The NC Office of State Budget and Management reports that there were 1.8 million individuals over the age of 65 in the state in 2020, projected to increase by 52% up to 2.7 million retirement-aged individuals by 2040.

“This growing population brings disposable income investing in leisure activities and travel,” Burkhardt said. “This population is also high in charitable giving and volunteerism. They are a valuable asset to our communities.” 

Aging services employ a lot of people. Retirement communities with caregivers, program coordinators, and culinary artists supporting residents are a significant portion of this, as are nursing homes, transportation services, and home healthcare services.

There has been heightened attention to caregiving options in recent years, according to Burkhardt. The pandemic highlighted those that “didn’t think they were old” who began to rely on family members for assistance with some of their needs. With a $7.3 billion total value of unpaid care in 2021, there is more of a focus on what happens to the family economy and what that does to caregiver savings and employers providing paid medical and family leave.

There is an immediate need to address the direct care workforce shortage, and the NC Coalition on Aging is doing advocacy work to help increase Medicaid rates in the state, as Medicaid is a major payer of long-term service and support.

“We need to fund the systems,” Burkhardt said. “Direct care workers in the state make an average of $11.23 per hour, and we need people who are committed to relationships as well as earning a certain level of training. We are slipping back; without appropriate reimbursement rates, agencies aren’t able to hire the best employees with the capabilities and attitudes needed for these positions.”

The Essential Jobs, Essential Care™ initiative is a national think tank encouraging direct care workers and people in need of care to join forces to address these issues. Leadership has developed a direct care road map and convened stakeholders to advocate and champion bonuses for workers. The work also includes recruiting and retaining workers and improving and streamlining training, making it easier for people to enter this workforce.