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WNC Business

Councils On Aging Offer Services to Retirees in Need - Part 1

Oct 18, 2023 12:41PM ● By Randee Brown

The Buncombe County Council on Aging is a phenomenal resource for a hot and urgent topic, according to Executive Director Heather Bauer.

The Buncombe CoA has been a private community organization since 1964 and offers a variety of programs for adults aged 60+ and their families and caregivers. Positioned as a “clearinghouse of services,” the Council, with the help of its municipal partners, provides support across many areas including rescue communication, senior dining and wellness, transportation, heat relief, grab bar installation, home repairs and chore help, and the understanding of health insurance.

A rapidly growing serviceable demographic can be complicated, according to Bauer. “We are educating businesses and reaching out in naturally-occurring retirement communities promoting independence and dignity,” Bauer said. “It’s challenging based on capacity and funding to meet the increased demand. We are spending human capital and finances on education and advocacy, calling attention to issues and seeking diverse solutions to expand services, and helping people navigate through the support available through their retirement years.”

The CoA saw growth in size and scope during the COVID-19 pandemic, but Bauer said a lot of that was temporary. The organization is now competing for public funding with other priorities including homelessness and affordable housing. She said the Council is also facing shortages in private support because businesses are also suffering.

With a shrinking home care workforce and shrinking funding coupled with an increased retirement-aged population, there is urgent action needed in policy, legislation, and community education and awareness. Bauer said though Buncombe County has resources that other WNC counties may not have, there are wait lists for some services in excess of five years long.

“Our region is number two for tech jobs coming here, and those employees are compensated at a high level,” Bauer said. “This factors into the increased cost of living — we’re the highest in the state. Home care is not covered by Medicare or Medicaid, medication costs are rising, and a Dogwood Health Trust report shows a shortage of housing stock in the area, making it increasingly difficult for older adults with a fixed income to live well here.”

North Carolina ranks number nine in the country for rapid growth of the aging population, and Buncombe County is number five in the state with 75,000 residents over the age of 65. By 2030, for the first time in the US, older adults will outnumber children under 18 years old. 

“It’s hard to anticipate the real growth that we’ll see,” Bauer said. “Becoming a Mecca for retirement creates challenges.”

With a current staff of 21 individuals, the CoA receives an average of 25,000 contacts per year, most learning about the Council by word of mouth. Bauer said as 80% to 90% of older adults want to age in place as opposed to relocating to a retirement community or long-term care facility, the volume of calls continues to increase, and the majority of those calls involve housing repair, grab bar installation and assistance, and ongoing care management services.

The Council is meeting with business leaders and funders in the area, and is in the early stages of developing an alliance that will be part of the solution to saturation. 

“We are looking for ways to streamline our resources and bring funding in where it was not present before,” Bauer said. “We are looking at corporate sponsorships and highlighting businesses that recognize the importance of what they do. Serving the population does have an impact on the bottom line of these businesses, as well as on their culture and their employees.”