“To create communities in New Hampshire that advance culture, policies and services which support older adults and their families, providing a wide range of choices that advance health, independence and dignity.”

— 2019 shared vision via NH Alliance for Healthy Aging

As former Chair of the State Committee on Aging, I get invited to numerous meetings, workshops, listening sessions and strategic planning on issues impacting our older citizens. My experience over the past 10 or more years leaves me as a skeptic.

We seem to do a great job of identifying problems which require solutions to the needs of our elderly populations, but have failed to convert plans to significant action. I am left wondering if the “New Hampshire advantage” is experienced in their daily lives.

Age-Wise has frequently reported on the gaps which exist in services, but this article focuses on the very wide gap between rhetoric and action. The collective impact of studies and plans over a decade has left me with doubt and uncertainty about the resolve to improve.

New Hampshire has one of the fastest growing number of older adults in the country, yet is nearly last in offering a balanced system of care. It is predicted that by 2030 nearly one-third of our state’s population will be over 65. When will we provide the funds to solve the identified problems?

As I wrote in an article entitled “It’s time for New Hampshire to act its age” in February 2012, we continue to identify as “the best of and worst of” — and of course budget support for safety nets for basic human needs for all ages extend well beyond our older folks.

This long-standing cause for statewide alarm for a growing number of vulnerable seniors impacts the quality of life for us all. Another Age-Wise Sentinel article in July 2019 cited the “heartbreak stories of the middle-income elder crisis.”

Contrast the Tufts healthy aging data report that New Hampshire ranks the third healthiest state for older people in the U.S. with the current State Plan on Aging Executive Summary which recognized that we ranked 49th out of 50 states in the percentage of Medicaid dollars invested in home and community-based support (2018 AARP Report).

Our many state plans have failed to generate consistent significant legislative support to solve identified needs. When federal funds invariably seem to disappear into the black hole of balancing the general budget, the specific strategic plans are left to be passed on to the next year.

Hopefully, all that may change with a new comprehensive state plan which has involved more partners and less duplication with issues alignment and the promise of a Commission on Aging. The N.H. Alliance for Healthy Aging (NH AHA) is a statewide coalition of cross-sector stakeholders focused on the health and well-being of elders in New Hampshire.

NH AHA will work to advance a shared agenda in support of its vision to create communities in New Hampshire that advance culture, policies and services which support older adults and their families, providing a wide range of choices that advance health, independence and dignity.

With a goal of guiding the efforts to understand, serve, support and celebrate older adults, the new plan MUST get the attention of the legislature. Fueled by a wealth of information from 15 listening sessions providing 130 pages of raw data on needs, an inclusive 30-person planning committee is charged with ensuring the outcomes will come to fruition.

The plan identifies five areas where healthy living would be improved: transportation, housing, tax relief, medical care and home/assisted living care. The target group, per the Older Americans Act, is for the most vulnerable with the greatest social and economic needs.

Can we keep pace with the needs of a rapidly growing number of older adults? The issues are clear. The strategies have been laid out. Can we resolve to put our money where our plans are? Seems like the preservation of our quality of life is at stake!

I recall Dick Ober’s comments in 2011:

“While often enviable, our quality of life is not easily accessible to all. New Hampshire is among the wealthiest, best educated, and safest states in the union. But these qualities are not granted from on high, and too many trend lines are going the wrong way.”

— NH Charitable Fall 2011 newsletter

Bottom line

Good news: New Hampshire is great at studies and analysis of needs.

Bad news: New Hampshire is slow to provide funding for identified needs and services.

Owen R. Houghton lives in Jaffrey and is a retired aging wellness educator who begins a new chapter of life after 10 years of care for his now deceased spouse with Alzheimer’s. As a member of Monadnock at Home, he is an advocate for aging well. Readers may contact him at nohoughton@myfairpoint.net.