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Aging agency director expects baby boomers to boost needs

Observing that most people age gracefully, Nick Beamer, director of Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington (ALTCEW), expects that a bulge in the aging population—fueled by baby boomers and miracles in medical science—will bring both opportunities and challenges in coming decades.

Nick Beamer
Nick Beamer with Aging and Long Term Care of Eastern Washington

According to census figures, there were more than 72,000 people 60 and older in Spokane County in 2005 and projections suggest there will be nearly 121,000 by 2020, he reported.

For those needing assistance as they age, ALTCEW promotes wellbeing, independence, dignity and choice for them and others needing long-term care. 

The agency serves about 9,000 seniors in Spokane, Whitman, Stevens, Pend Oreille and North Ferry counties—13 percent of the population of older people.

He expects, for example, that nonprofits will gain volunteers with experience and expertise.

“Retirees will be a resource for our communities,” said Nick, who promotes creating “livable communities for all ages.”

While society continues to focus on youth, he challenges communities to plan to accommodate more aging people with more long-term care homes, improved health care, more adult day care, more grannie flats, increased public transportation and universal designs to make new homes accessible.

Challenges for older people include their current top concerns about access to affordable health care, housing and transportation.

Nick said three issues that create need for Aging and Long Term Care services are:

1) multiple medical problems;

2) loss of companions, friends and families—the natural caregivers, and

3) isolation that may lead to depression.

He also sees a need to address ageism and injustice in workplaces and society, as corporations lay off older workers first and reduce health care benefits or pension plans for people after they retire.

Recent changes in laws undercut seniors’ financial security, and Social Security is not enough income to keep up with the rising cost of living, he said.

Nick, who grew up in Spokane, earned a bachelor’s degree in bacteriology and public health at Washington State University in 1968.  He worked for the Spokane County Health Department and then the City Health Department.  The two agencies became the Spokane Regional Health District in the early 1970s.

His shift from health planning to environmental health planning led him to graduate studies at the University of Michigan in health planning and administration in 1975 and 1976.  He then returned to work with the Regional Health Systems Agency.

In 1987, he began work at the Eastern Washington Agency on Aging, where he could apply his health planning skills to concerns of access to care for aging people.

Started in 1978, the Eastern Washington Agency on Aging was among 700 agencies established across the nation after 1973 amendments to the 1965 Older Americans Act.

In 1994, the agency changed its name to Aging and Long Term Care in Eastern Washington to include its delivery of programs for people 18 and older, not just senior citizens.  Younger people with disabilities face issues similar to those who are aging and want to remain at home.

Nick said that ALTCEW distributes federal and state funding, 93 percent of which it allocates to other public and private community agencies with which it contracts and collaborates to provide direct services.  It connects people with services.

For example, ALTCEW contracts with the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program for home repairs, with the Regional Health District for senior nutrition, and with University Legal Services for legal advice.   It also contracts with 3,000 individual providers in the region and monitors their service delivery.

It works through Rural Resources in Stevens and Pend Oreille counties, with Ferry County Counseling Services, with Elder Services in Spokane and with the Council on Aging in Whitman County.

In addition to the agencies with which ALTCEW collaborates, it also works with congregations and church groups.

Nick, who grew up Episcopalian, married 36 years ago and attended Covenant Christian Church for many years.  Since 1993, he and his wife, Sueann, have been members of First Presbyterian, where he heads the Senior Adult Ministry Unit. 

“We are to be servants for all populations,” he said. “My work at ALTCEW is an extension of his belief that we all have responsibility to care for others.”

Church agencies also assist.  Catholic Charities offers volunteer transportation to take people to medical appointments and essential activities.  Other church groups provide transportation informally. 

ALTCEW also provides funding for delivering meals and transporting some people to senior nutrition sites.

“Congregations provide volunteers to transport Meals on Wheels and serve meals at senior centers,” Nick said.  “As the need continues to rise for home-delivered meals, there is need for more volunteers.”

Nick says that congregations can also help people face medical problems, loss of caregivers and isolation by phoning and visiting homebound members and neighbors.

Friends, families, congregations, bridge clubs and granges provide natural networks of support.

“Today, families are spread out around the nation, so an older person in Spokane, Colville or Colfax may need support to stay at home,” he said. 

“Even if family is in town, many cannot care for their aging parent(s) because both spouses work to support their family.  If one quits—often the daughter—it reduces the family’s income.  Divorce fractures families, often leaving no one to care for an aging or incapacitated person,” he said.

“We can’t replace the caregiving of families, but we can augment it by offering adult day care programs where the aging family member can spend the day while family caregivers are at work.  In addition, there are in-home caregivers.”

“Seniors who are aging successfully are a source of volunteers to provide some of these services,” Nick said.

As volunteers are stretched, he hopes people who will be retiring in the next few years will fill volunteer roles and that churches will provide more volunteers to visit, transport and deliver meals to shut-ins.

Acknowledging that care giving is stressful, he encourages thinking ahead to develop new models that adapt to the population shift, such as businesses providing adult day care, flexible hours, work via internet and family leave so employees can care for family members.

For information, call 458-2509 or email action@altcew.org