Older, and maybe wiser in MOV counties

Data released this week shows by 2030 there will be more people over 65 than under 18 in the United States. Local readers will not be surprised to learn there are 13 Ohio counties in which that has already happened — and 11 of them are right here along the Ohio River, including Washington, Noble, Morgan and Monroe counties. The other two are Erie and Ottowa, up along the lake.

While this may not be the way Mid-Ohio Valley counties would hope to be ahead of a national trend, it presents some opportunities to become models for communities throughout the country, who will face this challenge soon enough. Certainly it means local officials who are already addressing the change might have some influence in the way others address it.

Jennifer Westfall, aging and disability director for the Buckeye Hills Regional Council, was sought out to discuss the matter with The Columbus Dispatch, which had questions about Noble County, where the median age is 53.1. (The median age in the rest of the nation is 38.2).

“There’s a lack of resources because it is low-population and it’s rural,” she told The Dispatch. “There is not a hospital in the county. There is no emergency facility in the county. Health-care access is a struggle.”

Those are not problems that will be faced in much of the rest of the nation. But they will face some of the other concerns, such as affordable housing, prescription costs, long-term care facilities and nursing homes and, of course, the problem that, if there are fewer young people in these counties, who is filling the jobs (particularly in healthcare) as the rest of the population retires.

Certainly, Westfall was correct to point out to The Dispatch that lawmakers must be careful in considering cuts to programs such as Medicaid, as the population in need of such assistance increases.

But meanwhile, Westfall and others in our region who are facing the challenge now understand an important resource about which the politicians and bureaucrats can do nothing. Those in other parts of Ohio are just beginning to get the picture.

“With this huge growth in the (senior) population, we’ve realized that formal services alone won’t do it,” said Cindy Farson, executive director at the Central Ohio Area Agency on Aging.

She is referring to senior centers, meal programs and transportation programs… what the newspaper calls “less-formal networks of people who will pitch in to help their neighbors as they age.”

Mid-Ohio Valley counties have a lot of work to do if we are to diversify our economy and improve our schools and communities to attract and retain younger residents and families. But we should be grateful to know we live in a region where we already watch out for one another, no matter what the age.