Out of 59 Area Agencies on Aging in the state, 58 saw their 60-plus population increase between 2000 and 2010, and Orleans County, in western New York, is among them with an overall population of 43,000, 20 percent of whom are over the age of 60.
“The aging population is increasing, and it’s going to continue to increase,” said Melissa Blanar, Director of the Orleans County Office for the Aging.
Blanar, who graduated from SUNY Brockport with a degree in Business Administration in Management, became director of the agency in January of this year, after having been with the office for seven years, first as a caseworker for the home delivered meal program. She later became assistant director and now director.
“She’s part of a new wave of directors/commissioners who came on board during the past 18 months, ” said Laura Cameron, Executive Director of the NYS Association of Area Agencies on Aging, an umbrella organization for New York’s local offices for the aging and aging network organizations. “We are featuring these individuals in a series of articles to introduce them to the aging services network and learn a bit about them and the agencies they lead.”
While some might see a growing senior population as a strain on the local economy, Blanar says they’re “lucky” to have a growing senior population for two reasons: One, she can continue to advocate for her programs and services and two, New York depends on the aging population to remain vital.
“You can talk about quality of life, but the economy is the real reason New York State should be concerned with the health and well-being of its older residents,” according to Greg Olsen, Acting Director of the New York State Office for the Aging, who reminds people of that wherever he goes. They are “an economic powerhouse that the state, counties, communities and villages can’t ignore,” he said.
New York’s baby boomers and senior citizens bring in around $3.3 billion in income annually. That’s considerably more than the $1.65 billion generated by the 25 to 44 demographic and a good reason to safeguard services for seniors so we keep their wealth in New York rather than having them move south.
Shrinking budgets and increasing numbers make it a challenge to continue offering programs and services at the same level, however, Blanar said. “Our phones are ringing off the hook and we don’t have a lot of staff. Changes in grant requirements are getting harder to keep up with when there are fewer people on staff.”
When Blanar started working at the Orleans aging office they had 14 full time employees and 7 part time employees. It’s the opposite now, and soon the 7 full timers will become six.
On the other hand, Blanar said, the county has been supportive. In October, when Blanar realized the demand for home-delivered meals was overtaking the budget, she reached out to county legislators. Rather than start a waiting list, they approved the continuation of meals.
She credits a better relationship with hospital discharge planners for some of the increase in the demand for home-delivered meals. “We’re making them more familiar with our services. Also some of the people in the congregate meal programs may have had surgery and now need the meals delivered to their homes. That's pushed the number up,” she said.
The Orleans Office for the Aging is located in Albion, NY, in the same building as the Department of Social Services (DSS). And the two work together.
“We have an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding)
The first year has been challenging, but Blanar is looking forward to future. “Now that I’ve been here almost a year,” she said, “I have a better handle on the overall operations and can begin to look at ways to offer better services more economically.”