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The future of aging in California requires investment, equity

The future of aging in California requires investment, equity

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Chaparral House executive director KJ Page, left, hands a mask to Larry Yarbroff, right, as he sits with his wife, Mary, while visiting her at Chaparral House in Berkeley, Calif., Friday, July 10, 2020.

The number of Californians 65 years and older is projected to double over the next 25 years while becoming increasingly diverse. More than half of the aging population will require some form of long-term care.

Many are part of the “forgotten middle” — older adults who will not have sufficient financial resources to pay for housing and health care. This demographic shift will be felt across our health care, social service, transportation, and housing sectors and throughout the workforce.

As the COVID-19 pandemic turned our lives upside down, we witnessed the crisis’s devastating impact on our aging loved ones — more than 75% of those who have died from the coronavirus in California have been over 65. The toll has been greatest on Black, Latino, and indigenous elders, and has magnified long-standing systemic challenges, health disparities, and racial inequities.

Fortunately, there are signs of positive change. In January, Gov. Gavin Newsom released a Master Plan for Aging, including recommendations compiled by the Alzheimer’s Task Force, chaired by former First Lady of California Maria Shriver. The Master Plan for Aging charts a 10-year roadmap to equitably address demographic realities in an effort to afford all Californians the opportunity to age with dignity and independence.  

Voters — Democrats and Republicans alike — want change. In a newly-released survey of 1,000 California voters, a near-supermajority (65%) say the pandemic has made it more urgent to address a range of issues impacting our aging population, with a clear focus to build a society where all Californians can age at home and in community.

And voters believe these issues should rise to the top of lawmakers’ agendas. In the survey, conducted by J. Wallin Opinion Research for The SCAN Foundation, nearly 8 in 10 voters (79%), including more than 85% of Black and Latino voters, believe the governor should prioritize and invest in the Master Plan for Aging.  Nearly a supermajority (63%) said they are more likely to support elected officials who prioritize this plan in the wake of COVID’s impact. This bipartisan support for change is a clear mandate for action.

The Master Plan for Aging lays out five bold goals: housing for all ages and stages; health reimagined; inclusion and equity; caregiving that works; and affording aging. 

These goals include more than 100 initiatives for the next two years, with practical and programmatic solutions, including preserving housing for older adults at risk of homelessness, increasing access to long-term services and support, and developing resources to help Californians navigate aging, dementia, and disability services, among many others. 

These changes won’t happen by themselves. We applaud the governor’s bold leadership for addressing in his May budget revision key issues — including supportive services, housing, and health care — that impact aging Californians. This beginning from the governor — coupled with a strong commitment from the Legislature, state and local governments, and private sector leaders — is a long overdue and much-needed step forward for California’s aging future.

Paul Oseso, general manager of Aegis Napa Valley, demonstrates one part of how the community keeps visitors, staff and residents safe from COVID-19.

Assemblymember Adrin Nazarian, a Democrat from North Hollywood, represents the 46th Assembly District. He is chair of the Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care and caregiver for his parents. Dr. Sarita A. Mohanty is president and CEO of The SCAN Foundation, a public charity focused on transforming care for older adults. They wrote this for CalMatters, a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s Capitol works and why it matters.

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