A Master Plan for Aging must be part of the housing discussion: Fiona Ma

With adults living longer and more productive lives – and wanting to stay in their homes and communities as they age – we must ensure the state is able to meet the demand. Currently, we have a disjointed and inadequate system of care for our older adults.

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I’ve lived with my aging parents for the past 10 years, with my father being the primary caregiver for my ailing mother. It has often been challenging just to locate the correct information surrounding long-term care services, transportation, and dental care, much less accessing those services.

Because I do not have children of my own to take care of me when I get older, I often wonder who will take care of me when I get old and how will services be then – better or worse?

Recently, I conducted a 10-city affordable housing regulatory tour – including stops in San Diego, Riverside, Orange, Ventura and Los Angeles counties – and I noted the state’s housing crisis is a major obstacle to older Californians’ ability to age in place. It prevents them from finding affordable housing, let alone housing that appropriately meets their needs.

Some people, such as my parents, are fortunate to have family to help out, but this puts a strain on the next generation who also struggle with the costs of housing and the socio-economic challenges of becoming caregivers, while also trying to work and create stability in their own lives.

On my housing tour I emphasized the need for a California Master Plan for Aging. We need to prioritize the development of affordable housing and associated services. The state’s lack of affordable housing and higher costs of living force many older adults who live on fixed incomes into poverty and homelessness. It is imperative we focus on this now, because by 2030 California’s over-65 population will nearly double, with a projected increase of 4 million people, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. This demographic shift will impact all areas of the service delivery system for aging and long-term care – not just housing.

A Master Plan would allow California to implement solutions for those who have no family caregiver support, but who still want to remain in their homes as they age, as well as prioritize the development of a well-trained and culturally competent population of care professionals – something the state is sorely lacking.

The good news is that California recently took a step in this direction when Gov. Newsom signed Executive Order N-14-19, which calls for the creation of a statewide Master Plan that ensures our rapidly growing aging population, along with their families and caregivers, will have access to a comprehensive and coordinated system of care so all Californians have the ability to age safely and with dignity.

While the Executive Order instructs the Secretary of the Health and Human Services Agency (HHS) to convene a Workgroup for Aging to advise in developing and implementing the plan, it’s crucial to note the important role of the Legislature in overseeing the Master Plan process to ensure it effectively meets population needs.

I am proud to be actively engaged on a package of bills that will help ensure the Master Plan addresses key areas of concern as we start to focus on filling in the framework in a comprehensive manner. The following authors and I have been working collaboratively to make aging in place and retiring with dignity a reality:

In summary, California needs a Master Plan for Aging that will serve as a blueprint for implementing strategies and partnerships that promote healthy aging and prepare the state for future demographic changes.

It’s time to truly listen to and understand the needs of our older adults and work together to create a viable Master Plan that will finally ensure the health and dignity of all Californians, and that will result in a system of care where older adults and their families have easy access to information about how and where they can get care and supportive services in their communities.

No longer should our most vulnerable population be set adrift to fend for themselves.

Fiona Ma is California State Treasurer.