Michigan's elderly support services buckle as residents age

Posted at 10:25 PM, Jun 30, 2019

Aging care experts are warning that Michigan's safety net services for elderly populations are becoming strained as more residents live longer.

Michigan's overall population has a median age of nearly 40 years, a number that increased by 0.9 years between 2010 and 2018, according to The Detroit News ' analysis of recently released U.S. Census Bureau data. It's slightly less than the increase in the median age of the U.S. population over the same period.

In 21 of the state's counties, the median age of residents is over 50 years.

Area Agency on Aging of Northwestern Michigan serves some of those counties.

Heidi Gustine, executive director of the Traverse City-based nonprofit, cautions that the state is "about to hit a tipping point," as more baby boomers reach retirement age.

Gustine said safety net systems are already buckling as demand for home health care increases with fewer workers to fill the jobs. She attributes the lack of workers in part to rising health care costs, which squeeze direct care wages under Medicare and Medicaid.

"Lack of working-age people is setting the speed limit on our employment and economic growth," said Xuan Liu, research manager for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments.

The council anticipates that Michigan's 65-and-older population will continue to grow over the next 15 years. Meanwhile, the state is seeing a 25% decline in the K-12 school age population.

Aging organizations like Gustine's are also in need of more funding and affordable senior housing.

Some counties have set up senior millages to help cover costs for food programs, in-home care services, transportation and recreational programs. Gustine said state law caps senior millages at 1 mill.

"We have a lot of seniors that have insufficient savings," Gustine said. "They can't always afford to eat, and we have a wait-list in many areas for personal care services so that they can have a bath or someone to help them get dressed or help them with preparing meals — basic things we take for granted every day."

Information from: The Detroit News,