Using financial resources locally crucial to our future
Nevada County is an interesting place among Gold Country communities. It keeps having to reinvent itself and not become a few old buildings selling antiques like so many Gold Rush towns. It also falters now and then when it does not see change is coming and fails to make the necessary adjustment.
What little remains of the mining industry is being closed by environmental concerns. Logging trucks still pass through town on the way from there, to there, but no longer stop here. We once replaced them with tourism, which still works if you only have to support businesses who can weather seasonal changes and economic times.
The hard part is looking forward, and making adjustments before they become a crisis. As a community we seem to have a hard time with forward. Those who do see change are the ones who are having to shoulder the effects. In this community, it is the nonprofit agencies which are providing most of the social services. Local government spends hundreds of thousands of dollars “studying” politically charged issues which have regional rather than local consequences. Rather than use local expertise, they hire consultants for everything from health problems to what to charge for a bus fare. These dollars could help solve the problems of the nonprofits who have been quietly growing by triple figures. Unfortunately, agency budgets have not kept pace. State and federal funding is being diverted by Sacramento to metropolitan programs, and the ability to raise funds locally in a changing economy has become more difficult. Sierra Services for the Blind has seen an over 400 percent rise in service on the same budget they had nine years ago.
Compare a $35,000 allocation from the general fund to add to Community Services Block Grant dollars for thirteen nonprofits to share with the money spent on NH 2020. Compare the cost-per-client counseling services of the Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Coalition, the Alcohol and Substance Abuse Recovery Center or Sierra Services with the troubled Mental Health Department. What is the cost benefit of Sierra Services keeping an elderly blind individual out of a long-term care facility at public expense, and a retreat for county managers? The Health Department recently received a grant to fund two part-time nurses. Hundredths of a percent of their budget, the $65,000 was half of Sierra Services’ annual budget, and the agency was denied even part of the Area 4 funding.
At age 80, one in four will be legally blind. They are three times more likely to have difficulty walking or getting out of a chair. They are twice as likely to have arthritis or cardiovascular disease. They are generally poorer, impaired in multiple ways, women and minorities. They will populate our nursing homes at a rate of 48 percent while they represent only 5 percent of the population. If they smoked, they are 2.5 times more likely to lose their vision. Smokers are more likely to become blind than have lung cancer. As a nation, we will spend over $7 billion institutionalizing the elderly blind, and less than $7 million per year to keep the over 3.2 million blind seniors independent.
To quote Dr. J.E. Crews of the University of Mississippi, “This is not a cyclical change in our society, it is a structural change. Our society is aging, and with it will come specific medical issues. The financial resources that will be required to accommodate health related problems associated with blindness, and the premature institutionalization now documented, must be addressed. So, too, the cost in human terms to both the individual and the family.”
With one third of our population seniors, plus the working poor, it is the human issue that must be discussed, and the future assured.
Sierra Services for the Blind has served this community for 21 years. They are one agency which has made the social adjustment. They spend an average of $275 per client per year providing the education, counseling and transportation required to keep their 460 clients independent. Institutionalized, the average individual will exhaust their personal resources within four months and must then fall on public expense for their care. The least expensive long-term care facilities in our community will exceed $16,000 per year, and as a high exceed $45,000. Or, 60 to 160 times the cost. Most other agencies can show similar statistics.
In purely economic terms, the percentage of population change came at the expense of the middle class. School populations are dropping. Their loss is the backbone of nonprofit funding. The seniors who bought their houses and build new ones have raised the cost of housing in this community dramatically. This created not only a problem for lower income seniors, but families and their children, as well. Beyond the housing issues this raises, if the nonprofits and their health services are not here as this new senior population ages, these same seniors will have to leave.
They came in together; they will age together. If they leave as fast as they came in, the housing market will see a glut and prices will drop, costing the local economy millions. They will take their buying power with them. The ripple effect on our business community will be dramatic.
We, as a community, must decide at this point in our history whether we spend our few financial resources on regional or national issues, or on local issues and people for which local governments were intended. Yes, this includes local environmental issues which relate directly to the quality of our lives. Yet, the influx of seniors now brings our senior population from 16 percent to over 30 percent in only seven years. The new seniors are younger and have more money than our traditional senior population. They form the backbone of our new economy, and hold some responsibility to share their good fortune with the local community.
If the present nonprofit community is allowed to fail, the new senior will leave when they age and suddenly find needed services gone. Western Nevada County will become a community talking about “what was,” and “remember when” once more.
Richard Crandall is executive director of Sierra Services for the Blind.
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