Funding cuts are negatively impacting some of the services for seniors, and these were touched on at the hearing as well. While duties involved with the destructive floods that ravaged much of the county evidently kept Ulster County legislative chairman Fred Wadnola from appearing at the hearing as planned, county executive Mike Hein made a brief appearance, recounting some of the horrors he had witnessed after the storm as well as the amazing rescues and community spirit he had observed.
The guest speaker was Michael Burgess, former director of the State Office for the Aging who now heads the Albany-based State Wide Action Council, an advocacy organization for improving quality of life for seniors.
The banquet room was filled not only with UCOFA staff and individuals from other agencies but also approximately 100 seniors, including at this reporter’s table Ted Schacklinsky and sisters Gladys Skura and Sue Bickert. All three are involved in the RSVP volunteer program. Schacklinscky volunteers every Tuesday morning at the caboose off the Route 28 roundabout maintained by Ulster County Tourism. A retired project engineer, he also volunteers his time and expertise at the Ulster County Community College satellite location at the Business Resource Center, where he explains solar power to students in the alternative energy program. Skura and Bickert also volunteer at the tourism caboose, and both women are on call at the Ulster County Fair.
The busy schedules of Schacklinscky, who lives in Town of Ulster, of Skura, a resident of Hurley, and of Bickert, a resident of a senior housing development in Esopus, attest to the substantial human capital provided by older citizens. Particularly in these hard times when municipal budgets are being cut, the need for volunteers is acute, and many seniors are filling the bill. Catherine Canzian, director of the Ulster County RSVP, said volunteers also drive otherwise immobile seniors to their doctor’s appointments and take them shopping.
She said the program currently has 500 active volunteers. Unfortunately, the federal grant that funds the program has been cut, just at a time when the need is greatest, with attendance at food pantries and soup kitchens — many staffed by senior volunteers — doubled, she said. “It’s really difficult with the funding cuts,” she said. “We’re asking our members to contact the [federal agency] Corporation for National and Community Service on September 16 and ask them to save the Senior Corps,” which oversees RSVP and two other programs.
Contrary to what certain members of Congress claim, Burgess said that the federal budget cuts definitely impact seniors. “Mindlessly cutting services to balance budgets is shortsighted,” he said, threatening initiatives that have successfully cut the poverty rate of older people in half and helped improve their overall longevity and health. Burgess cited a few statistics showing what’s at stake and what’s been achieved:
Since 1900, the number of Americans 65 and older has increased from 3.1 million to 39.6 million and is projected to grow to 72 million by 2030.
Between 1982 and 2006, the age-adjusted death rates for people age 65 and older declined by 21 percent. The drop was 50 percent for stroke and heart disease and 29 percent for diabetes.
The improvement of health for men is partly a function of the changing economy, as well as the plummeting smoking rates. In the past many men worked at polluted manufacturing sites. (Burgess said his grandfather had worked at the Alcoa plant in Massena, an industrial facility that probably had been linked to his death from cancer.)
Today’s improved living conditions and longer life spans are partly attributable to technology, Burgess said: for example, doctors can monitor a person’s health remotely by means of mobile devices. Nursing homes are also much more appealing; he noted two facilities in Albany in which the institution has been replaced by cottages clustered around a communal kitchen building with a fireplace.
Next week’s health column will detail program funding changes adopted by the state government this year which will affect seniors. It will also mention some county programs available to seniors.++