Methow groups join forces to define needs
By Natalie Johnson
More than half of Methow Valley residents are over 50.
A recent study by the Methow Housing trust noted that 79% of seniors in the area thought they’d be able to live in their homes for another 10 years, while another 29% said they’d stay another five.
So where do they go after that? An assisted living or a nursing home, if they can afford it? Would in-home help or nursing care mean they could stay in their home longer? Does the Methow need more infrastructure and services for seniors?
The Senior Assessment for Support and Housing (SASH) steering committee was created this month to find the answers to some of those questions.
“We’re really trying to create a community effort. We want this to be community-driven,” said Leslie Tregillus, board chair at Jamie’s Place and director of the Lookout Coalition. “It is a big project … but I think we will have a lot of enthusiasm from the community.”
Organizations involved with SASH include Methow At Home, Methow Housing Trust, Room One, the Methow Valley Senior Center, Lookout Coalition, Confluence Clinic, Family Health Centers, TwispWorks, Aero Methow Rescue Service, Frontier Health and other community members.
SASH officially got kicked off the first week of February, and plans to work for the next five to six months studying the area’s demographics and needs.
However, the project has its roots in a Jamie’s Place board retreat last summer. There, the board began to look at its waiting list and capacity, and think about a 10-year plan.
When they started to talk about the aging population in the Methow, they knew it would outgrow their existing capacity for services in the valley, Tregillus said.
“We realized that Jamie’s Place is not going to be able to meet these needs,” she said.
In Winthrop alone, about one-third of the population is older than 65, compared to the countywide 22%, said Joan Wellman, a board member of Jamie’s place.
“That makes Winthrop one of the oldest communities in the state,” she said.
The project soon grew beyond the board of Jamie’s Place into the SASH committee, which Wellman leads.
She worked with community members and the Methow Housing Trust to raise money and hire a consultant — Jody Carona of Health Facilities Planning & Development, a consulting firm specializing in rural health care needs.
“The question is, is it enough? Do we have enough capacity and enough services for what we’re going to need for our expanding senior population in the valley,” Wellman said. “If you took a population of 5,000 people other places in the country, typically what kind of services would you have in place? What should we have in place if we’re going to meet the need of the population … and then what are our gaps?”
Jamie’s Place, which has space for a total of 12 people in two buildings, offers a home-like environment for seniors needing medical care. It’s the only residential, long-term care facility in the valley.
While some seniors need long-term care in a nursing home or assisted living facility, Wellman said it’s not the only option. Access to in-home caregivers and other services can help seniors stay in their homes longer.
“From the Lookout Coalition’s perspective we do see a lot of elders who are living in their home,” she said. “What I see them missing or having difficulty accessing is caregiving in the home, and many are looking at caregiving in the home as a stopgap measure to needing more care.”
However, seniors with low incomes — but not low enough to qualify for Medicaid — can fall into a “gray area” where they’re priced out of professional in-home care options, she said.
“What’s different about this particular piece of work is we’re looking at both support and housing,” Wellman said. “Ideally people can stay in their homes, but if they’re going to stay in their homes they need support.”
Methow At Home was founded as a response to an earlier look at options for housing for community elders which landed on the “village concept” as a strategy, said Betsy Weiss, a board member and founding president of Methow at Home.
The group provides a number of services for seniors, including occasional transportation, tech support, dog walking and handyman services.
“One of the largest needs is transportation,” Weiss said. “People who are reluctant to drive themselves … out of the valley for health care and who need to go to Wenatchee or need to go to Omak or Brewster, that’s a huge need.”
Transportation isn’t the only non-medical need seniors have to allow them to retain independence, Weiss said.
“For most people that live in rural areas they have yards … gardens, vegetable gardens, flower gardens, that take care,” Weiss said. “And those are really hard to do for most people as they lose strength and mobility.”
SASH plans to take an in-depth look at demographics, population, income and savings and prevalent medical conditions to get an accurate picture of what seniors in the valley need now and in the future.
To get that done, SASH will need input and support from the community as well.
“We are hoping this work will engender a lot more interest in the community,” Wellman said. “This is just a needs assessment. The doing is going to be an even bigger and much more significant and visible part of this work and that’s going to take a lot of community support.”
The group plans to post all of its findings on its website, and is welcoming comments and suggestions from valley residents.
For more information on SASH, go to https://tinyurl.com/jpsash.