In January we learned what was important to Iowa’s elected leaders as they kicked off the new legislative session.
We heard the Condition of the State address from the governor, and the welcoming speeches by the House speaker and majority leader, and the Senate’s president and majority leader.
The messages were consistent — the items of importance to these leaders centered on water quality, schools, jobs and the economy, health care affordability, mental health services, and tax reform.
None of the leaders spoke at any length about older Iowans.
What did the omission tell us? It told us that they view older Iowans as largely invisible, and that they are either unaware of or indifferent to the needs that they have.
Here’s what I wish one of our leaders would have said:
“I’d like to talk with you today about older Iowans.
They are a significant portion of our state —
• Those 60 and over represent 21 percent of our population
• One in four Iowans is a baby boomer either at or approaching retirement age
• Those 85 and up are one of Iowa’s fastest-growing population segments.
They are parents and grandparents, spouses and partners, widows and widowers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors.
Their contributions to Iowa are immeasurable. Their hands and hearts have made Iowa a wonderful place to live and work.
They have (and many still do) proudly owned businesses, farmed the fields, worked in factories and offices, served in the military and other public service roles, taught in our schools, treated us when we have been ill, paid taxes for the good of their state and localities, played key roles in churches and civic organizations, etc.
We owe them an enormous debt of gratitude which typically goes unexpressed.
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The reality is that older Iowans have needs that we have paid too little attention to over the years. We’ve known what they are, but have routinely found reasons to give them little priority.
Our reasons? There’s not enough money, there’s something else that’s more important, the issues are difficult and often controversial, and it’s easier to kick the can down the road until next year.
Another reason that I reluctantly admit — we knew that these older Iowans would understand, and would accept, our inaction or delay. They would remain relatively silent, as their nature is to put the needs of others (particularly their kids and grandkids) ahead of their own.
It’s time to make the needs of older Iowans a priority.
So today, I’m announcing an older Iowans agenda.
While the agenda is lengthy, here are four of the items that I see as being the most critical:
• Strengthen the financial security of older Iowans — and reduce the reliance on the Medicaid program — by coming up with new ways to pay for the costs of expensive long-term services and supports.
• Build and sustain the paid direct care workforce (the certified nurse aides, home care aides, personal support attendants, etc.) needed to serve and support the growing number of older Iowans and those with disabilities.
• Better inform, support and train the approximately 500,000 family and other informal caregivers in Iowa who we rely on to keep their family and friends as independent as possible.
• Increase the amount and type of information and services provided by the Area Agencies on Aging, Life-Long Links, and the Long-Term Care Ombudsman; information and services essential to the health, safety and quality of life of older Iowans.
We were elected to lead. Leading means leaving no one behind. For too long, older Iowans have been left behind. That’s been wrong. That changes today.
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Older Iowans and their families are listening and watching. They deserve our support, and they need us to act. Let’s not let them down.”
• • • • • • •
Every candidate for the Iowa Legislature, for governor, or U.S. Congress should craft an older Iowans agenda, publicize it, commit to it and talk about it frequently.
If they don’t, it’s fair to question whether they deserve our support.
• John Hale is co-owner of The Hale Group, an Ankeny-based consulting, advocacy and communication firm focused on aging and caregiving issues. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org