New Mexico needs to support its seniors

Jan 24, 2013

Dolores E. Roybal |
Originally appearing in the Santa Fe New Mexican on Saturday, December 22, 2012 

Our population of seniors is growing, and they need our attention. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that our state will experience a rapid growth in the percentage of people age 65 and older, placing New Mexico fourth in the nation for percentage of seniors by 2030.

As New Mexico’s largest private foundation dedicated solely to health, Con Alma Health Foundation partnered with the New Mexico Association of Grantmakers, Nirvana Mañana Institute and the Daniels Fund to examine this drastic shift in our population and how we can better support our seniors.

We studied this issue to make sure New Mexico organizations that fund programs are aware of seniors’ needs. Also, we are looking at ways to increase partnerships between public and private sectors to make New Mexico a model state for how it supports its seniors.

The good news is New Mexico has a strong history of supporting older adults. State government recognizes the needs of this growing population. State agencies have developed a comprehensive, one-stop resource center for aging New Mexicans and are partnering with communities to help older people stay healthy. However, we need to do more.

Currently, 1 in 8 older New Mexicans don’t know where they will get their next meal. Close to one-third live on Social Security income alone, averaging about $13,000 a year.

The public and private systems of health care and long-term care services in New Mexico are severely stressed. Data suggest the local and state systems will be incapable of serving the growing population of culturally and ethnically diverse elderly whose preferences and needs are different from previous generations.

We surveyed foundations and other organizations that fund programs to find out what they know about elderly issues and how much they support programs for seniors. About half currently fund elderly programming. However, they told us they don’t get many funding requests for senior programs compared to other populations.

We also talked with seniors about their needs. Commonly they reported that they expected to need help with transportation assistance, home heating, energy assistance, household chores, discounted senior meals, long-term care and respite care/support as a caregiver.

New Mexico’s long-established family networks that offer care and support are assets that can help agencies as they work to strengthen services. With conscious planning, state and local agencies, in collaboration with funders and the private sector, can expand those networks to support all our elders, now and in the future.

We believe the philanthropic sector can take the lead in supporting the health and well-being of our seniors. We would like to see:

• A clearinghouse of aging-related information

• Trainings for nonprofits on how to apply for aging-related funding

• Funding initiatives to encourage local and national funders to support aging in New Mexico

• Education of foundations on promising aging practices and successful programs

Even though we identified a broken, fragmented system for seniors, we know we can better support them. We can shift our attention to this growing population and overcome barriers to care in our state. We need public and private partners to work together to learn about the trends and needs of our elders and develop innovative solutions that strengthen supports to our elders. And we need to do it now.

Con Alma Health Foundation led New Mexico’s EngAGEment Initiative, designed to increase awareness and funding support or New Mexico’s growing aging population. To read more about the needs of our seniors, look up Con Alma’s website, and look under Beyond Grantmaking. National and state reports are listed, as well as links to New Mexico resources for seniors.

Dolores E. Roybal is the executive director for the Con Alma Health Foundation.

Con Alma Health Foundation - The Heart and Soul of Health in New Mexico

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