CHICO, Calif. – The ‘Graying of California;’ the term used to describe the state’s elder population which is projected to reach record numbers in the coming years.
Is the state ready for the healthcare, housing, family caregiving, and economic implications of an aging boom?
Action News Now Morning Anchor Julia Yarbough is one of fifteen journalists selected from across the country, for the 2020 Journalists in Aging Fellows Program with the Gerontological Society of America.
As part of ongoing coverage of issues impacting elders and those who care for them, Yarbough worked to find out the status of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s initiative, announced shortly after taking office; The Master Plan for Aging.
What might a new vision for how our communities address aging and how families care for their elders in their final years look like?
Yarbough spent time with a Chico area family caregiver, to learn how he has navigated the daily care, medical needs and support for an elderly parent. Sadly, since the time of these interviews, the elder family member passed.
James Burkett says his goal, has been to be there for his 90-year old father, Wayne, and give him the quality of life he deserved.
“He gave me plenty of time when I was young and I feel it is my duty as a son to give that back to him,” explains Burkett.
For the past year, Burkett’s primary role has been a full-time family caregiver. He has had some help from family, friend and because his father served in the United States Air Force, he has been eligible for some services through the Veterans Administration. But, Burkett has provided the bulk of his father’s care.
But, daily care is more than just duty; it is love. Every day those tasks include bathing, dressing, preparing meals, handling medications and medical needs, and more.
Burkett admits that the level of care can be physically and emotionally exhausting. But says, he made a promise to his father.
“I’m hoping to keep him here at home as long as he’s able to and give him the quality of life he wants,” says Burkett. “I wanted him to have as much life here at home. That’s the promise I made to him.”
At 90, Wayne Burkett was physically frail, but mentally sharp and strong. Yarbough asked him how his son did in taking care of him.
“He’s a 10,” said the elder Burkett with a laugh and smile. “He meets every need that I have.”
Experts within the aging field say the Burkett household is increasingly the norm across the country and here in California. AARP estimated there are 53 million adult family caregivers in the United States.
Dr. Nina Weiler-Harwell with AARP California describes that as ‘the future of aging in California.’ She says California’s population of those over 65 is expected to explode to 8.4 million people in the next ten years.
“The way the state is currently set up, it is not set up for successful aging in place,” explains Dr. Weiler-Harwell. “Aging in place is becoming increasingly unaffordable and we know that paid caregivers must be paid a living wage. If we are going to keep and retain this workforce and reduce shortages, then we have to do a lot better in terms of pay.”
Yarbough asked Dr. Weiler-Harwell if California is ready? “We do fairly well relative to other states, but this is California and we expect a lot more and we expect better than what we’re doing now.”
Under the current framework, many families have limited options. Those choosing to hire in-home care can face costs of thousands of dollars a month. For those who choose facility care; that can be even more expensive. And this year, due to the coronavirus pandemic, that option has brought a new round of fears about health and safety.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicates our nation has experienced close to 70-thousand covid-related deaths in nursing homes across the country and more than 46-hundred deaths in facilities across California.
Dr. Nine Weiler-Harwell says AARP made California’s initiative for a Master Plan for Aging, one of the advocacy organization’s top priorities for 2020.
Throughout the year, The California Department of Aging hosted a series of workshops and listening sessions. Under the initiative put forth by Governor Newsom, his administration was tasked with learning what help people in the state need and how service agencies can meet those needs.
Over the course of the year and dozens of webinar sessions and an online portal, the department gathered hundreds of comments from the public and dozens of policy recommendations from service agencies across the spectrum of care.
California Department of Aging representative Adam Willoughby tells Action News Now, the Master Plan for Aging will be used as a blueprint for how the state can plan and prepare to meet the needs of the millions of older citizens and their families.
He says the plan is not only for today’s older adults, but also to help Californians of all ages prepare for living longer as well as ‘family, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and caregivers of older adults and people with disabilities’ to adapt to an aging population.
The focus includes healthcare, transportation, the delivery of medical services, housing and disparities amongst cultural groups as well as family caregiving.
“It is a blueprint that engages all Californians to build communities that meet our needs across our lifespan; meeting our needs as we age from 50 to 100,” explains Willoughby.
A Stakeholders Advisory Committee has now completed a 264-page report of recommended actions for California.
That plan is now under review by the Governor, with a final Master Plan for Aging expected to be released sometime in January 2021.
Dr. Weiler-Harwell took part in the crafting of the Master Plan report and says she hopes California will adopt the recommendations put forth by AARP. Those include, to develop a long-term insurance benefit for families, better-integrating services for those in need and to address California’s affordable housing situation.
Whatever vision California moves to put forth, it comes too late to offer additional assistance or options in care for the Burkett family.
Wayne Burkett passed away November 30th, 2020; laid to rest December 12, 2020.
*This story was produced with support from the Gerontological Society of America, Journalists Network on Generations, and the RRF Foundation for Aging*