HUDSON–Office of the Aging Administrator Kary Jablonka reported to the Human Services Committee of the county Board of Supervisors last week that 20% of Columbia County’s residents are age 60 or older, making this the oldest county in the state. Mr. Jablonka said that the portion of the population over 75 represents the biggest change in the county’s demographics. In that group there is a greater likelihood of disability, requiring supportive services, so that the county needs to focus on how best to serve an increasingly disabled population.
Under the Olmstead decision in 1999, the Supreme Court found that segregating people with disabilities is discriminatory, and that while states are mandated to provide services for them, New York State is 47th out of all 50 states in meeting this obligation. The state recently established an Olmstead decision “sub-cabinet” and set aside $600 million to put a system in place to meet this obligation. “Long term care is an enormous issue, and we can’t dodge demographics,” Mr. Jablonka said at the June 19 meeting of the committee.
In response to a question from Hudson 4th Ward Supervisor William Hughes (D) about how the program will affect those in the nursing home, and Mr. Jablonka said that while the needs of some county residents are best met in a nursing home, “for every person in a nursing home, there are two to three receiving care in their homes.”
Social Services Commissioner Paul Mossman noted that the situation presents the county with an opportunity to re-examine assisted living, and that the county should serve as a conduit for residents to get a fair hearing.
Supervisor Hughes said that there is a difference between in service needs depending on location. “Upstate, people may have to travel 60 miles to get to the nearest provider, whereas downstate, they can hop on public transportation. People don’t take that into account. Upstate has more Medicaid and nursing home users because it is hard to get closer services,” he said.
Likening the dilemma to “building an airplane that is already in the air,” Mr. Jablonka said that the future will demand that the county be responsive and reflect the needs and services of the community. “How to deliver services in an urban setting is a fundamentally different challenge from doing so in rural area. We have 10 people per square mile here. We have a choice to define what we think works or to sit and wait for something to happen.”
Mr. Jablonka advised the committee “to frame questions and be aggressive about asking them,” and he cited Camphill Ghent as an example of community integration with little distinction between staff and patients. He said major changes are happening and “we need to work at the intersection of politics and good government… to find a way to benefit the aging and disabled population.”
In other business Veteran’s Service Department Executive Director Gary Flaherty reported that he believes the county’s program is the best in the state, and its biggest hurdle is the federal Veterans Administration, which often denies claims. But he said he had successfully resolved a five-year-old claim for a veteran in Ghent, who subsequently was approved for back pay.
Mr. Flaherty also reported on success with the Battle Buddy program and noted the courts are cooperating by assigning the veterans to him for treatment before being returned to the court for sentencing, when warranted, and that the Claverack judges are particularly supportive.
Youth Bureau Executive Director, Jessica Nabozny, reported that the United States Tennis Association (USTA) gave a $1,000 grant for youth programs in Chatham, Livingston and Spencertown. She also spoke about her group’s work with the Council on the Arts to combat childhood obesity by getting children involved in movement, dance and playground activities.