Westchester Initiative Takes a 'Village'

By Carpenter, Mae | Aging Today, May/June 2008 | Go to article overview

Westchester Initiative Takes a 'Village'


Carpenter, Mae, Aging Today


New York's Carpenter Wins ASA Award

The American Society on Aging (ASA) board of directors honored Mae Carpenter with the 2008 ASA Award at the association 's recent national meeting in Washington, D.C. Carpenter, commissioner of the Department of Senior Programs and Services (DSPS), the area agency on aging in Westchester County, N.Y., also serves as the fund administrator for the Westchester Public-Private Membership Fund for Aging Services, which she founded in 1990. This partnership, which has raised more than $5 million, helps develop private resources to expand the services provided to elders by DSPS.

Besides recently launching the Livable Communities initiative (see adjacent article), Carpenter founded the New York Southern Area Aging Network in 2006 as an outgrowth of the 2005 White House Conference on Aging.

The Livable Communities Initiative, a project of DSPS, is one of the most important, ambitious and exciting challenges of my more than 40 years in public service.

As DSPS commissioner, I worked with the staff to develop a coordinated, comprehensive plan to deal with the rapidly aging population-a plan that grew out of Westchester's preconference program for the 2005 White House Conference on Aging ( WHCOA ). Our research showed that we had no choice: Not to act in the face of the aging population would spell disaster. One in five Westchester residents is age 60 or older, and the 85-plus population grew by 24% from 1980 to 2000.

MUNICIPALITIES UNPREPARED

DSPS's preparation for the WHCOA underscored the need for a comprehensive plan: We found that many families had given no thought to how they would care for older relatives in an emergency or when they became frail. We also discovered that few Westchester municipalities had started to prepare for the coming tsunami of elders.

The realities of today's jobs frequently require adult children to move away from their parents, often to other parts of the United States. However, Westchester poses an additional challenge: Because the county is so close to New York City, adult children wishing to live near their parents sometimes cannot do so because of the high cost of housing in the area.

As a result of these factors, many boomers in Westchester County will not be able to rely on their adult children to provide care for them in their later years. The Livable Communities Initiative offers a way to ease this pending crisis. A key concept driving our plan is that it is far less expensive to care for elders in their own homes than to pay for a move into an assisted living facility or a nursing home. Will the demand for public funds to provide long-term care services increase exponentially due to a growing elder population and a shrinking number of family caregivers? Government should be a source of formal help, but it cannot-and should not-have to provide everything.

This realization about the limits of government assistance convinced us that we needed to develop informal networks of neighbors helping neighbors-to revitalize the concept and spirit of community. Informal services provided by such networks can include tasks as simple as cooking a meal, providing a ride or delivering items from a grocery store. …

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Westchester Initiative Takes a 'Village'
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