S. E. Williams
California has the largest population of seniors in the entire country. In 2013, nearly five million California residents were 65 years of age or older.
Five million seniors and counting—the numbers are growing exponentially. It is projected California’s senior population will more than double to over 10 million by the year 2040. In addition, the population of seniors 85 years of age and older is expected to triple during the same period. Americans are living longer as the Baby Boomer generation grows older.
California’s extraordinary growth relative to its senior population will have a significant impact on the state’s health care system. The percentage of elderly residents in regions like the Inland Empire, Los Angeles and Orange Counties are expected to double by the year 2040.
There is no question seniors use the largest share of health care services more than any other segment of the population. The fact more seniors are projected to need more services in the not too distant future highlights a major concern—many wonder whether the state will proactively prepare to meet this growing demand particularly in relation to thousands of seniors who are and will be heavily dependent on nursing home care.
According to the recently published California Health Care Almanac, “The growth in California’s senior population is expected to have a significant impact on future demand for long term care beds, or alternatives. At current rates of use, demand for California’s long term care facilities would exceed supply by 2020.” Long term care facilities include skilled nursing facilities, intermediate care facilities, and congregate living health facilities.
This week, in an exclusive interview with The Voice, Deborah Pacyna, Public Affairs Director, California Association of Health Facilities, shared her organization’s concerns regarding the looming shortage of nursing-home-beds.
Nursing homes are identified by a number of different names. In addition to housing and meals they also provide personal care, social services and skilled nursing care for people whose physical and/or behavioral conditions make it difficult for them to live alone or with help from others.
Skilled nursing facilities also provide care for patients while they convalesce from a serious illness or surgery. In addition, they often provide continuous observation and rehabilitative services for those who need it. At the close of 2013, nearly 100,000 Californians were receiving care in a skilled nursing facility. Of these patients, 79 percent were 65 years of age and older and 35 percent were 85 years of age and older.
Pacyna expressed concern about the impact the rising numbers of elderly will have on the 350,000 people who use skilled nursing facilities each year. “The biggest impact will be on people who stay in nursing homes longer than three months,” she said. “People who suffer from two or more multiple chronic conditions like dementia and heart failure for example, or dementia, kidney failure and diabetes.”
“Eighty percent of our residents are in and out of skilled nursing facilities within three months after undergoing hip or knee replacements or therapy following a stroke or serious illness,” Pacyna explained.
“There will be increasing pressure on the remaining people who need a long-term placement as the demand for skilled nursing beds increases,” she added and continued. “These are people who are generally 75 years and older.”
“The biggest shortage,” according to Pacyna, “will probably take place in the Bay area. It’s already hard to find a placement there because of the expense of building a new facility.”
However, Pacyna admitted memory care and assisted living communities are sprouting up everywhere for the people who can afford them; but, according to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSPHD), only seven skilled nursing homes have been built in California since 2005. At this pace, the elderly could be sleeping in the streets by 2020. “The main culprits behind the shortage,” Pacyna explained are, “exorbitant costs, excessive regulation and lack of financing options.”
Currently there is no legislation pending in Sacramento aimed at addressing this concern. Hopefully, that is about to change. According to the California Association of Health Facilities CEO/President Jim Gomez, “We will be proposing legislation in the coming month to ask the state to provide low cost financing to the sector to build new and renovate existing skilled nursing homes.”
It is very important for success of the movement to build more skilled nursing facilities, to have the governor’s support. “The governor has been supportive of the needs of skilled nursing providers and the population that they serve,” Gomez stated. “But, we need to educate lawmakers and the public that the silver tsunami is very real and is coming faster than we imagined.”
One Sacramento lawmaker who has continued to be a strong advocate for the elderly is Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown. Brown, Chair of the Assembly Aging and Long-Term Care Committee, has championed a number of key issues related to long-term care for the elderly. Two-thirds of all nursing residents in California rely on the government for their health coverage. On more than one occasion Brown stated, “I am committed to ensuring that California’s most vulnerable citizens are not relegated to a life in poverty.”
Brown represents the 47th Assembly District in the Inland Empire one of the region’s whose elderly population is expected to double by 2040.
Baby Boomers are the generation of Americans born between 1946 and 1964. As more and more of the Baby Boomer generation turns 65 they will represent the largest elderly population in the history of America. They are also projected to be among the longest-lived generation in history.