CHAPEL HILL - Older adults living in Orange County municipalities have nearly doubled since 2006 and is continuing to grow. Now the county is creating a new plan for connecting them to social services.
The county is finalizing a new Master Aging Plan, or MAP, the first one of its kind, designed to create public-private partnerships for services for older adults throughout Orange County. Orange County’s Department on Aging and a team of public health graduate students from UNC-Chapel Hill solicited feedback from hundreds of adults 65 and older in every township in the county and created five work groups to guide how the plan was created.
The plan has been in the works for a year, and addresses housing, health and wellness, aging services currently in place, transportation, and community engagement over the next five years. It also focuses on how to facilitate better communication and improve access to local services.
Orange County’s plan will be used as a model for other counties to create MAPs in their own communities, said Janice Tyler, director of the county’s department on aging. It is the county’s third MAP, but the first to be include broad public input and be based on the state’s Aging Services Plan which has eight goals, inclduing a broad objective and a corresponding implementation strategy.
“We really feel like the process has been so good and it’s been so much better than we did the two times before,” Tyler said. “... It’s very much from the grassroots up, because that’s where we started going out into the townships. It’s not a top-down kind of thing, it’s a bottom-up kind of thing.”
The plan will be posted on the county’s website when its completed and will include a step-by-step guide of Orange County’s planning process for other counties to use, Tyler said.
“The rest of the state has to be brought up to speed, especially the poorer counties,” said Hank Maiden, of Carrboro, who was on the steering committee and attended a public comment session last week.
Tyler said her counterparts in other counties have asked for templates they could use when creating their own plans, particularly counties who are a part of the Triangle J Council of Governments, which includes Wake, Durham, Johnston, Chatham, Lee, Moore counties.
Orange County already offers several services and activities for people age 65 and up, but many people just don’t know about them, said Marcia Perritt, a public health graduate student at UNC, who helped create the MAP. The new plan aims to change that.
“Things exist, there just needs to be better communication and more mobile communication to get to the northern part of the county,” she said.
Activities for older retired adults in the area are published quarterly in the Senior Times newsletter, but even if people know about them, transportation is a challenge, especially for people who live in rural Orange, outside of Chapel Hill, Carrboro or Hillsborough, said Katherine Leith, the chairwoman of the MAP planning process.
During a recent visit to the norther part of the county, Leith met with retirees after a church service who had trouble getting to southern Orange for an event. One suggested the group carpool with the church van, and their pastor agreed. The plan promotes collaboration like that, she said.
“It was great to hear these people say, ‘we can take the church van’”, Leith said. “The socialization is so important ... we are so lucky to have all these things.”
North Carolina is expected to seeing a 5.1 percent jump in its age 65 and over population from 2011 to 2030, according to the MAP.
The number of adults age 65 and up in Orange County is expected to increase by 31 percent between 2012 and 2017. By 2030 the population will more than double, making up 17.6 percent of all Orange County residents compared to 10. 6 percent currently, according to the county.
Housing for those aging people was also an issue that came up over and over again in workgroups, Leith said. In Orange County, there is no housing for middle income individuals or many options for people who want to live in a community. There’s subsidized housing and expensive communities like Carol Woods in Chapel Hill, but nothing in between, she said.
“People want to be with friends or other people ... there’s no specific housing for that group,” Leith said.
The county’s Department on Aging will present the MAP to the Orange County Commissioners on May 1. Initiatives from the new MAP will not be included in the budget for the next fiscal year, but Tyler said she hopes it will be funded by both the county and private groups for the 2013-2014 fiscal year.
The county is holding seven public comment sessions on the plan, and residents can also view it online and comment.