CHEYENNE — Wyoming is aging. And as the state’s population gets older, the state government could end up dealing with the very expensive proposition of providing care for more and more of its citizens.
The AARP Wyoming chapter wants to see the state start to invest now to help try and mitigate the high cost of care that is looming on the horizon.
In comparison to the rest of the country, Wyoming is growing older, faster. A recent study by AARP found that by 2055, Wyoming’s population of residents age 85 and older will grow by 227 percent and make up more than 5 percent of the state’s population. That rate of growth is 20 percent more than the national average.
Coupled with that increase in aging is an expected decline in the state’s population 65 and younger, with a 2 percent drop expected over its demographics in 2015.
Those two expected shifts could represent a serious crisis when it comes to providing care for those older Wyomingites, said Sam Shumway, state director for AARP Wyoming.
“Those younger individuals will end up being caregivers for their family members, for their aging parents, loved ones or neighbors,” Shumway said. “We have over 60,000 caregivers in Wyoming right now who aren’t paid. If (those family and friends) aren’t available, and if you have a senior who has a chronic or acute health problem, and they don’t have anyone take them to the doctor or help with medication, too often those folks end up in nursing homes.”
And ending up in an assisted living or long-term care facility could end up having a huge impact, not only on those older residents, but also on the state’s budget. Currently, Wyoming spends $130 million per year on long-term care, but that number could go up significantly by 2030. The Wyoming Department of Health estimated by then the state could spend anywhere from $184 million to $312 million per year helping subsidize long-term care for residents who qualify for assistance.
“(Wyoming) now pays for 64 percent of all nursing home costs,” Shumway said. “One of the best ways to mitigate that is by helping people stay in their homes by supporting in-home care services.”
By investing in home and community services, Shumway said Wyoming can avoid the more than $80,000 it costs to have someone in a nursing home or assisted living facility. In comparison, the average cost to the state per person for funding in-home nursing care or other community-based care programs is significantly less.
“Home service can cost the state less than $2,000 (a person) a year,” Shumway said.
Those services range from having a nurse spend 20-30 hours in the home a week, providing care to community-based resources that deliver meals to seniors.
AARP wants Wyoming’s Legislature to invest more resources in in-home care programs, Shumway said. Even an investment of several hundred thousand dollars could provide a substantial amount to cutting wait times down for in-home care and other services.
Currently, anywhere from 60 to more than 100 people will be on a waiting list to receive services through programs funded by the state.
Another major factor in the ability to serve seniors in their home is the availability of in-home care providers to hire staff. As more young people move out of the state, so does the number of people who potentially could staff these programs.
Wyoming Department of Health Aging Division is focused on providing as many services as possible to allow seniors to age in their own homes, said Jeff Clark, program manager for the Wyoming Home Services program.
Clark said the waitlist for services comes about in part because of differences in the makeup of the state’s counties and the number of providers available.
“Sometimes it’s a shortage of workers, or maybe the issue comes down to the participant lives too far away or in too much of a rural area they can’t be reached with the resources currently available,” Clark said. “We constantly monitor the waitlist and actively try to work with the providers to get these people in the program as soon as possible.”
Clark said the solution to keeping people in their own home as they age is to create a network of care made up of multiple partners. No one program will be able to solve this issue on its own.
“We realize this program isn’t going to be only thing that keeps these people in their homes. We need to coordinate our services with other community resources to create a network of care,” Clark said. “It comes back to the fact that we understand that this program can’t provide all the services needed to keep people in their homes.”
The goal in keeping people aging in their homes isn’t just about saving money, Clark said. It’s about the quality of life as people reach the twilight years. That’s why the state has programs like this to help seniors age in place.
Shumway agreed and said beyond any final outcome, helping people age in place just makes sense from a human standpoint.
“Once people leave their homes and go into an institutional setting, their life expectancy isn’t great,” Shumway said. “It’s a quality of life question. It’s staying close to what you know and the things you’ve loved. That’s just such a large part of life.”