Forum to focuses on seniors' health issues
DFRISCO - Summit County is already a major destination for retirees looking to lead active lifestyles in their golden years. As the massive baby boomer generation nears retirement, how will the likely flood of retirees to the area affect our healthcare system?

That was the question posed to local health experts at Thursday's Our Future Summit forum on "health and wellness for an aging population." In addition to answering questions from residents about senior health issues, a panel of medical professionals offered their ideas about the future of health care in the area.

"The 'me generation' - also known as the baby boomers - are now age 43 to 61," said Dr. Don Parsons, who moderated the forum. "We suspect we will experience a significant increase of those approaching 65, if they aren't there already, as second-home owners and permanent residents."

That increase will cause a growing need for senior healthcare facilities, the lack of which, Summit County public health director Deb Crook said, is already a concern to residents according to the recently completed County Health Needs Assessment.

Paul Chodkowski, administrator of St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, said bringing senior facilities and resources like more medical specialists to Summit County is the number one local priority for senior care. "The next thing on everybody's mind is, where is the assisted living and where is the long-term care?" he said.

But Chodkowski said there are a number of obstacles to bringing senior health resources here. "It's an issue of numbers," he said. "While our (senior population) increases are going to be dramatic from a percentage standpoint, in terms of raw numbers it's going to be only in the thousands."

"You have to have the right population, the right number of potential clients and - the biggest issue from what I've been investigating - the cost of land," Chodkowski continued. "The companies that are building the big, major senior centers aren't looking at Summit County yet because it's so expensive to be here and there aren't the numbers."

But Crook was more optimistic that the coming senior boom would attract medical resources. "We're really on the cusp of having enough people to provide some of these services that people are talking about," she said.

Larger numbers of seniors will affect the area beyond health care, said Jean Hammes, executive director of the Alpine Area Agency on Aging. She sees the coming trend as a chance for economic development of companies that cater to services for seniors, like home repair and chore businesses.

But Hammes and other panelists also said Summit County's current and future seniors are staying active and healthy further into life than past generations, so they need different medical and personal services.

"Never would I have thought I would be treating an 85-year-old who skis 10 times a year more than I do and is perfectly healthy," said Karen Wyatt, executive director of Bristlecone Health Services, adding that the next generation of seniors will continue this trend. "The baby boom generation is blowing away the textbooks, all the information on aging."

But the prospect of caring for the flood of seniors in the near future has the medical community financially worried. Panelists said Medicare reimbursements pay less than what healthcare providers normally charge for procedures, so more patients reaching the age to receive Medicare will mean greater strain on providers' budgets.

"There's a fear in the medical community about the increasing numbers of Medicare recipients that are coming down the road," Wyatt said. "Everyone wonders, how will we stay in business when that happens?"

Dr. Kim Nearpass, a naturopathic doctor based in Frisco, said one solution could be a shift toward more holistic and preventative care to keep people healthy rather than treating problems after they develop.

"How you eat, what you think, how you live your life affects how you feel, and that's particularly true as you age," she said. "We are living a lot longer than we were, and health care's going to have to change to deal with that."

Andy Bruner can be contacted at (970) 668-4620, or at abruner@summitdaily.com.

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Comments and questions can be directed to:

 Howard Hallman, PO Box 209, Frisco, CO 80443

970-468-9134 or hhallman@ourfuturesummit.org