Mayor Jim Matherly announced his intention to create a new committee focused on the needs of senior citizens. The announcement was made at Monday’s City Council meeting, and was followed by a press release immediately afterward.

The first tasks the committee will undertake, according to the release, are to “identify yearly goals to keep up with senior needs, determine if it is a role for government or for the private sector and determine the yearly funding required.”

City Communications Director Teal Soden said the committee would not be created in code, allowing the group some flexibility to adjust as it determines the needs of the city’s seniors. The group will hold its first meeting Wednesday and will be reporting to City Council regularly, according to city Chief of Staff Mike Meeks.

Meeks called the formation of the new committee “the first step in a long journey.” He went on to say that the city’s growing senior population would need a variety of resources and that the committee’s first goal was to determine which resources it could provide or supplement and which would need to be outsourced to private businesses.

The initial membership of the committee will consist of Fairbanks City Councilwoman Valerie Therrien, Chief of Staff Michael Meeks, Housing and Homeless Coordinator Michael Sanders, and the Executive Director of the North Star Council on Aging, Darlene Supplee. More members could be added later, as the need arises.

The Senior Needs Assessment was released in June. It covered current and future demographics of the senior population in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, the needs of that population, and where they are and are not being met.

There were 16,793 seniors over the age of 60 in FNSB at the time of the assessment, accounting for 17% of the local population. Of these, 1,333 seniors were over the age of 80. A large portion of these live in Fairbanks: about 30% of seniors over 60, and 57% of seniors over 80 live in the city. The assessment also determined that the over-60 senior population would grow to 21% by 2030 and the over-80 population would grow to 3%.

The needs of those over 80 are particularly concerning for both Meeks and Supplee. Both stated that those over 80 generally need more assistance to remain independent and mobile. The programs that help with this, like those offered by the North Star Council on Aging, may become overwhelmed without additional support, should the population grow as expected.

The assessment, created by Agnew Beck, an Anchorage consulting firm, stated several gaps in needs for the senior community in FNSB.

At the top of the list was affordable senior housing. The assessment determined that FNSB needed 148 apartments by 2025 to meet the needs of its growing senior population. Housing will be one of the first issues discussed by the new committee. There is also a growing need for beds those with dementia and other “challenging behaviors” according to the report.

Meeks does not anticipate the city paying for the new needed housing. Rather, he suggested that the committee might approach those in the private sector to help bring the housing into the area.

The assessment determined that the greatest needs for seniors in the borough included housing, assisted living, transportation, funding for preventative services, workforce development for care providers, more primary care doctors that accept Medicare and home modification assistance.

For Supplee, creating the committee is a good start for addressing the complex, layered problem of providing for an aging population. “How do we help these pioneers that built this amazing community, stay here?” she said.

She suggested that those who would like to help local seniors could adopt a senior, volunteer for Meals on Wheels, or help to reduce the stigma around aging by talking about it. “Who the hell wants to talk about getting old?” Supplee said, “But it’s coming, and it’s coming fast.”

Matherly is running for Mayor this October. Therrien is running for City Council Seat C.

Contact Cheryl Upshaw at 459-7572 or find her on Twitter @FDNMcity.

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