Aging in place

Fri, 01/26/2018 - 8:15am

A gathering that was held to better understand what kind of support Block Island’s elder population may need to be able to keep them in their island homes started on an unexpectedly poignant note.

The information session, sponsored by the Senior Advisory Council, began with a 12-minute film about the aging populating of North Haven, Maine, and what has happened to some of their neighbors and friends after they had to move off the island due to illness or age. At the end of the film, an older man who had that unmistakable Maine accent asked himself rhetorically: “What would I miss if I had to move off North Haven forever?” He paused and answered his own question, “Everything.”

After the lights came up, there was some throat clearing, as some in the audience may have had the exact same thought about Block Island.

At the gathering were representatives from Town Hall, the Town Council, the Medical Center, the Housing Board, Block Island Economic Development, the Senior Advisory Committee — which sponsored the gathering — the Island Free Library, and the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

After the meeting concluded, moderator Gloria Redlich, who is the Senior Coordinator for the senior advisory group, said that her committee was about to send out a survey to gather information about what support services seniors feel they may need to be able to “age in place” on Block Island, and Redlich also suggested a committee be formed to further look into the topic.

Several ideas were bandied about at the meeting, including the founding of an assisted living facility on the island, and how to find, or create, affordable housing for any caregivers who may want to come to the island to work with an aging client.

“The Housing Board is working on that diligently,” said Housing Board Chair Cindy Pappas, who also said that affordable housing units may be a possible use “for properties we already have.”

Island Free Library Executive Director Kristin Baumann said that finding housing for fulltime caregivers who aren’t living in the residence of the person they are caring for could be solved. It wouldn’t be an issue if the island’s ferry service included a commuter run that allowed workers to come to the island and return to the mainland every working day throughout the year. “If they can come back and forth they may be more available,” said Baumann of the number of caregivers who may want to work here.

As far as creating an assisted living facility, the challenges that kind of project faces are many, including determining how many island residents will either need, or want to live, in such a place. Resident Kim Gaffett suggested finding some angel investors to either purchase or build a property, but she, and others, including Dr. Mark Clark, cautioned that funding and staffing a 24-hour, seven day-a-week facility will be hefty task.

“The obstacles out here are very real,” said Redlich.

In response to a couple of questions, Dr. Clark said that the health care issues facing the elder population on the island are many, with primary issues being cognitive decline and loss of balance. He was cautious about the idea of an assisted living facility. “Most people will not leave their homes unless they have to. It’s scary,” he said. “I don’t know if people would leave their homes even if it is on-island.”

One of the “most pressing needs, that are the most proactive, is preventing unnecessary falls,” said Clark, adding that the Medical Center is “building a robust physical therapy program” in order to address some of these current needs.