2017-03-17 / Health & Wellness

Agency connects seniors with care services

Initiative also helps disabled, caregivers
By Hector Gonzalez

It used to be that when someone with a disability needed longterm care services, they had to visit their nearest social services office for referrals to local agencies and programs.

But for the elderly who required access to special-needs aid, it was especially difficult.

Many of these older, often retired, residents would seek assistance at agencies specifically designed to help seniors. But those agencies were often unable to offer the more specialized services a disabled senior required, frequently sending them someplace else for help. It was a confusing, fragmented process.

A new initiative aims to bridge the gap between agencies that serve seniors and those that help the disabled. With more people living longer, the improved communication is all the more necessary to provide an integrated services safety net for these two groups, said Victoria Jump, director of the county Area Agency on Aging.

In November, the state designated the Ventura-based agency as an Aging and Disability Resource Connection to help streamline access to long-term care and support for older adults, people with disabilities and family caregivers.

The goal is to “provide a single, more coordinated system of information and access” for people in need of long-term support, the state Department of Aging said in a news release.

Aging and Disability Resource Connection sites serve as one-stop shops for referrals and resources, eliminating “many of the frustrations consumers and their families experience when trying to access needed information, services and supports,” the release said.

Now when disabled adults, seniors and the family members who care for them come to her agency, they receive referrals and help regardless of their age, Jump said.

“What it really is about is bringing together aging services providers with disability services providers under one umbrella,” Jump said. “Before, you would have two silos, one serving the disabled and one serving the older adults, but the problem with that is that people are living now into their 70s and 80s, and they often have medical needs.

“So we’re no longer telling them, ‘We can’t serve you because you have this disability; you have to go through this one place.’”

Giving seniors and the disabled easier access to programs is increasingly important because the number of people 65 and older keeps growing. That age segment grew 28 percent in a decade, from 36 million in 2004 to 46 million 2014. And it’s expected to keep increasing, so that by 2060, 98 million Americans will be 65 and older, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources.

“Most older persons have at least one chronic (health) condition and many have multiple conditions,” the department’s website said.

Similar programs that combine locally available social services under one roof are already working in other states. In Georgia, for example, the access system to information and assistance is called Gateway. According to the Health and Human Resource’s website, Gateway offers more than 24,000 resources related to aging and disability services.

In Ventura County, the Area Agency on Aging is working with the Camarillo Health Care District and other healthcare partners to create a single referral system that can handle many different needs, Jump said.

“So, for instance, at the Camarillo Health Care District, if someone were to go to them for services they don’t provide, they provide what we call a ‘warm hand-off.’ They will let us know the person has a specific need and we will then try to address it,” she said.

“If they come to us with a need that a health district can provide, we’ll provide the warm hand-off to the health district. Our community partners are like our extended hands reaching out into the communities.”

Although the best way for a disabled person to get help, whether they’re a senior or not, is to simply walk into the Area Agency on Aging’s Ventura office at 646 County Square Drive, Ste. 100, Jump said her team is working on upgrading the agency’s website to put the state’s one-stop shop concept at a person’s fingertips.

“We’re still in the process of building a resource database online,” she said. “Some of the information is already available online in a limited edition, but we’re overhauling our site now and hope to launch the reworked site early this summer.”

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