Last Updated on May 1, 2023 by BVN
Prince James Story
Community members, healthcare workers and city officials gathered for a roundtable discussion about the state of behavioral health services for older adults in the Inland Empire.
Some of the guests who attended the California Department of Aging’s listening session shared their experiences with the healthcare system. Attendees shared that they felt ignored by doctors who didn’t address their concerns during their visit.
David Wilder, Commissioner on the San Bernardino County Senior Affairs Commission, told a story of having to threaten the doctors with a malpractice lawsuit if they didn’t provide him with the medication he needed to manage his bipolar disorder, a condition associated with episodes of mood swings.
“I had a quadruple bypass, so they did not look at anything else. I also have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and I’m a diabetic. They focused on what they felt comfortable with, not what was actually going on with me,” said Wilder.
In Riverside County, adults over 65 years of age comprise 45% of the disabled community.
Wilder has nine medical conditions. He said he thinks doctors focus on one or two of those and they ignore the rest, which is a problem.
The listening session fostered a call to action for more advocacy for older individuals as they navigate the healthcare system and struggle with negative stigmas, especially in regard to behavioral health services that may impact their quality of care.
One suggestion was to find more intergenerational approaches to getting seniors the help they need. Some people suggested encouraging younger individuals to volunteer to help seniors navigate telehealth services and other needs.
“As we’re looking at what the needs are, we talked about where the helpers are coming from … where the professionals are being trained and how they’re being trained, and to look at how we might expand earlier in the process,” said Gary Robbins, Deputy Director of the Office of Aging in Riverside County.
“Maybe that’s making some changes to educational requirements around accredited programs. Maybe that’s spending more time on our efforts with advocacy with our local colleges and universities and graduate programs to say, ‘Hey, this is a need. It’s a need that’s coming quickly [and] we have to look at that pipeline.”
Californians over the age of 50 have become the fastest-growing group in the state. According to the Riverside County Office on Aging, between 2010-2060, Riverside County is one of six counties in the state whose 85 and older population is projected to have a 712% increase. In addition, the number of residents aged 60 years and older in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties is expected to increase by over 200% by the year 2060, according to the California Department of Aging.
Map of Percentage Increase of Elderly Population Aged 60 and Over, Years 2010 – 2060
“We do have a subset that needs various types of assisted living, said Marcus Cannon, Deputy Director at Riverside University Health System – Behavioral Health. This includes skilled nursing [and] Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly (RCFE).
He continued, “As those are becoming less available and less affordable, particularly to our Medicare populations, that places strain and prevents people from accessing behavioral healthcare services because of that gap. So, as those resources become more scarce and the supplemental security income (SSI) rates become more difficult to run a business on, that’s certainly something we would want to highlight.”
In 2021, California released its “Master Plan on Aging,” which includes five goals that will improve the quality of life for seniors as they age. They include: housing for all ages and stages in life; health reimagined including access to the services needed for seniors to live at home and optimize their health and quality of life; a focus on inclusion and equity to eliminate isolation, discrimination, abuse, neglect, and exploitation among seniors; improving the quality of care and creating one million high-powering caregiving jobs; and affordable aging which includes closing the equity gap, and increasing elder economic efficiency.
Addressing this issue of affordable aging as a step to improving quality of life is essential in a state where 30% of all people in the U.S. experiencing homelessness live.
A study conducted by California State University, San Bernardino’s (CSUSB) Department of Social Work, which featured 513 senior citizens who live in San Bernardino, found that 50% of respondents indicated having enough money to meet their needs as frequently or sometimes a problem and 49% also identified problems with paying for dental care.
The survey used the 2019 Federal Poverty Level of $12,490 and the annual income responses are summarized below:
In 2017, the number of seniors 55 years old and older who were unhoused was 30,251. In 2022, that number grew to 62,800, according to the California Homeless Data Integration System (HDIS).
“One of the things that we have to really be prepared for and keep in mind if we want to change the tide, [if] we want to change Sacramento, [if] we want to change the general public’s outlook on older adults and aging [is] we have to specifically differentiate what are age-appropriate services, what are age-appropriate treatment and diagnosis,” said Tony Ortego, the Older Adult administrator for Riverside University Health System.
“They [senior population] don’t fall in line with regular or adult services, as adults would fall in line with certain services. They are a specialty population and we need to enhance and treat them as so.”