Getting old up north
Aging summit at Chico State to cover challenges specific to rural seniors
“We’re all affected by aging.” That may seem self-evident, since everyone grows older. But Joe Cobery means to say that the “tsunami” of adults becoming seniors in recent years impacts more than just the seniors themselves.
Cobery is executive director of Passages, a nonprofit service provider for caregivers and older adults. He says it only makes sense that issues surrounding health coverage (i.e., Medicare) and retirement income (i.e., Social Security) weigh heavily on so many Americans. If you’re not in the twilight years yourself, chances are high that someone you love or care for is.
According to the California Department of Aging, the Golden State has 7.2 million residents ages 60 and older, including 2.1 million 75 and older, out of a total population of 38.8 million. (Butte County’s totals are 47,000 and 16,600, respectively, in a population of 223,000.) In 2010, California had 6.3 million residents 60 and over, with 2.02 million 75 and older—so there have been significant increases in just five years, which follows the nationwide trend.
Jean Schuldberg is a new member of the 60-and-over assemblage, but she’s not new to the issues. She’s a professor at Chico State, where she serves as director for the master of social work program, and in 2013 was appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Commission on Aging (CCoA), described on its website as “the principal advocate in the state on behalf of older individuals.”
Schuldberg will host her fellow commissioners for their quarterly meeting next Thursday and Friday (Sept. 17-18) at Chico State. This will mark the CCoA’s first meeting in Chico since January 2005—when, coincidentally, Schuldberg made a presentation to the commission as part of a panel discussion titled “The Intersection of Aging and Education.” (Then, she was an assistant professor and coordinator of the gerontology program.)
“It’s great to see us back on the map,” Schuldberg told the CN&R. “It’ll be an opportunity for the commissioners to see the extremely rural region and the services that we are able to provide, and to hear from the individuals in our region as to what we do need for advocacy for legislation.”
Every session is open to the public.
Cobery, who organized the event with Schuldberg, hopes for a large turnout—not only staff from agencies such as his, who have a vested interest, but also community members and local policy-makers, who could share information with commissioners and benefit from the panel presentations.
Those educational programs include aging-in-place challenges in rural California, senior housing in rural areas and multigenerational learning opportunities at Chico State.
The cornerstone of the meeting, of course, is official business of the 18 commissioners.
Neither Cobery nor Schuldberg expects a specific North State appropriation bill or rural-centric law to come of the summit, but rather that commissioners will incorporate this part of California into legislation they sponsor and policies they draft once they’ve seen the area for themselves.
“Services delivered in rural parts of the state are much different than urban areas,” Cobery said. “For example, access to physicians: If you’re living in Los Angeles or San Francisco, there’s a fair amount of physicians who take Medicare or other insurances. In the rural part of the state … the number of providers is a lot less, so you can be an older adult with insurance and might struggle [finding] a doctor who’s willing to take you.”
And while many older adults in Chico may have a primary care physician willing to serve them, seeing a specialist often involves traveling to Sacramento or Davis, at least.
“From Chico you say that’s an hour an a half, that’s not a big deal,” Cobery said. “But what if you live in Plumas County? You’re looking at maybe three hours—and if you’re an 85-year-old older adult who doesn’t drive and mobility is a challenge …
“There are some real challenges here for folks in the rural part of the state,” he continued. “I think for the California Commission on Aging to get that exposure—live it, see it, talk about it with older adults up here, listen to the discussions—it will be great information for them to bring back and then spread around the state.”
Schuldberg stressed that her colleagues come to Chico with deep knowledge on senior issues. What they’ll glean, as Cobery said, are specifics about the region for which she’s commissioner, which roughly mirrors the 12 counties in Chico State’s service area (Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Siskiyou, Sutter, Tehama, Trinity and Yuba).
“The hope is that through hearing the information about our communities,” Schuldberg said, “it will continue to advance the causes of older adults through our commission. That’s helped in the past, when we supported and helped with legislation that has to do with Medi-Cal managed care.
Participants will have an opportunity to provide personal testimony and also meet with commissioners individually. And the commissioners, in turn, will get more boots-on-the-ground experience, she said.
“Some of them may have never been to a rural region before, and we are vast. I don’t think many people are aware of how huge we are, how much poverty there is, and how far people are from services.”