by Valerie Verkamp
Landmark assistant editor
To better serve senior citizens in the near future, Platte County Services and Platte County Senior Fund co-sponsored a needs assessment survey.
The survey was administered by ETC Institute this past February. The six-page survey was mailed to a random sample of residents 60 years of age or older. A majority of the 1,830 survey participants were between 60 to 70 years of age.
Deanna Armstrong, executive director of Platte Senior Services, Incorporated and Kathy Macken, executive director of the Platte County Senior Fund, said the information will help shape future senior programs.
“A lot of what the survey told us confirmed our best thinking about the needs of seniors in Platte County. And that was very helpful. It also delineated differences and similarities in senior populations from one part of the county to another, which will help us pinpoint services and messages for specific communities,” said Macken and Armstrong.
According to the survey's findings, health care and losing the ability to drive are top concerns. Fifty-five percent of participants revealed they are either very concerned or concerned with the affordability of health care. Seniors indicate their concern with the affordability of health care would remain as their top concern over the next decade.
Independent living was also high among their concerns. Ninety-five percent of those surveyed still drive a vehicle to get from point A to point B.
Participants identified walking, bicycling, and relying on a family member or friend as other forms of transportation they utilize. Forty-five percent of those surveyed cited losing the ability to drive as a top concern, and 43 percent said it would continue to be a top concern over the next 10 years.
“Transportation, isolation and a desire for more life enrichment (activity and exercise), as well as minor home repair and more information on health care continue to be at the top of the list of needs,” said Macken and Armstrong. “While we have been providing those services in the past, we have already started to ramp up our program offerings. During 2014, Platte County Service Fund financed $210,955 in transportation and $4,610 in furnace inspections and repairs. Two hundred fifty two seniors received in-home care at a cost of $239,328.”
But many seniors are not ready to hand over their license to drive just yet.
A majority of those surveyed indicated they anticipate using their own vehicle as their main mode of transportation over the next decade. Hitching a ride from a family member or friend and walking were also identified as forms of transportation participants would use over the next 10 years.
The survey showed that 18 percent of respondents do not leave their residence as often as they like out of fear of falling. One percent of respondents acknowledged they were homebound all of the time.
The Mid-Continent Public Library system has nine different locations in Platte County. Of those surveyed, 64 percent said they use the library and the community services the library provides. Fifty percent said they attend church, 34 percent indicated they use the YMCA, and 11 percent visits the community center.
Seniors can also seek companionship while engaging in activities with other individuals 60 years and older at the senior service center.
Platte Senior Services provides free roundtrip transportation to the senior center located inside the Platte County Resource Center at 11724 Plaza Circle. Seniors meet frequently to participate in activities and enjoy lunch together.
When asked if participants were aware of this service, merely 30 percent of participants acknowledged they were aware of the free transportation to the senior center and only 22 percent of participants said they were aware of the programs and activities the senior center offered.
Forty-seven percent of participants were aware that home-delivered meals, or Meals on Wheels, are available to seniors in Platte County.
Despite the number of participants who were unaware of the home-delivered meal service, it does appear that a large number of Platte County residents are indeed utilizing and benefiting from the nutritional meal service.
“Last year, Platte Senior Services distributed over 37,000 meals to seniors through Meals on Wheels and at our three centers in Kansas City, Dearborn and Weston,” said Armstrong. “We expect that to grow in 2015.”
The survey showed that 63 percent of seniors feel their tax providers are meeting their service needs. An equivalent percentage of participants feel their access to health screening was being met and 59 percent felt their need for transportation to medical appointments is being fulfilled.
The needs assessment survey revealed that many seniors either overlook or are unaware of the services provided by the Platte County Senior Fund and the Platte Senior Services, Inc. In fact, 69 percent were not knowledgeable about the services provided by Platte County Senior Fund and 73 percent were not knowledgeable about the services provided by Platte Senior Services.
“What we learned from the survey was that until people had a need for assistance, they did not necessarily retain information about the services available,” said Armstrong and Macken. “As a result the Platte County Service Fund and Platte Senior Services are joining forces and designing a more comprehensive marketing strategy to help get the message out to more people. We will continue to use the survey results to shape our strategic planning. And as always, we will continue to collaborate with other organizations in the community to maximize our support of seniors in the county. We will continue to develop programs and services that are relevant to seniors whether they are in their 60s or 80's.”
Participants claim the number one reason Platte County seniors do not use the designated senior services available to them is because they lack awareness of the services.
Only nine percent of surveyors actively participate in an exercise class, six percent participate in a recreational activity, and five percent participate in programs and activities at the senior center.
Seniors feel “senior specific services” are a high priority. A little over half of the survey participants said services geared directly to seniors will be extremely important or very important over the next decade.
“The fund will expand its scope of current offerings in the next year based on the survey results,” said Deanne and Kathy. “Platte Senior Services has increased its exercise classes to three days a week and is starting a Tai Chi class on Thursdays in January to address the needs identified by the survey. Both organizations will work together to continue to increase our educational outreach initiatives in more community settings.”
According to calculations by the U.S. Census Bureau, 12.5 percent of the population in Platte County is 65 years and older.