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News / Clark County News

Clark County reviews its aging readiness strategy

Council mulls proposed changes to readiness plan

By Shari Phiel, Columbian staff writer
Published: September 15, 2023, 6:02am

One in six Clark County residents is 60 or older. By 2025, that number is expected to increase to one in four. Is the county ready and able to provide a livable community for this aging population?

Answering that question is the goal of the now decade-old Aging Readiness Plan. On Wednesday, the Clark County Council held a work session to review proposed changes to the plan.

Being added to the plan are natural and human-caused hazards, lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and adjustments for the growing retirement-age population. Changes to transportation options for seniors, increased housing costs, new housing options and zoning regulations are also included, as are advances in technology, especially the use of virtual communications.

“One thing the plan does is highlight best practices and recommendations for local jurisdictions. We’re hoping that the county but also all local jurisdictions will review the plan and pick strategies that work best for their situation,” Rose Newberry from Dudek told the council.

Dudek is a Portland-based consulting firm hired in 2022 to help guide and implement the update process.

“We hope it will improve interjurisdictional coordination between the cities and county,” said Susan Ellinger, a community development planner, of the updated plan. “The Commission on Aging has manual work plans to implement all of the strategies within the plan.”

Ellinger said staff would be reviewing planning code and ordinances to make implementing the updated plan a smoother process.

First adopted in 2012, the plan has five chapters, or primary areas of focus: healthy communities, housing, transportation and mobility, health and independence and civic engagement. Goals for each chapter were identified and included strategies for reaching those goals.

For example, improving access to healthy food is a goal under the health communities chapter. Strategies for the goal include expanding access to fresh and local foods, improving access to farmers markets and prioritizing grocery store developments in food deserts.

The updated plan will combine elements of some of the existing chapters and add an emergency preparedness chapter. The new chapter includes strategies to reduce the transmission of airborne diseases, working with the Clark Regional Emergency Services Agency to ensure older adults are included in planning, preparing for natural disasters and providing assistance during events.

Focus group, strategy

Newberry said updating the plan began with reviewing the existing plan, involving stakeholder groups, holding focus group meetings and completing a strategy evaluation with feedback from staff and the public. A draft plan was then created, which is now ready for review and approval by the council.

“We did robust public engagement to make sure this plan worked for both the older adults in Clark County but also for the service providers,” Newberry said.

The public engagement process included individual workshops for transportation, support services, housing, healthy communities and emergency management as well as strategy workshops. Newberry said a wide range of topics had to be considered to match the needs.

“We’re seeing a more diverse generation of people reaching retirement age,” Newberry said. “We see sometimes people and their parents are both in retirement, so it’s really a diverse range of needs.”

Stakeholder work groups were divided into focus groups for transportation, support services, housing, healthy communities and emergency management. Each group looked at what makes a community age friendly.

Current need

While planning for the future is important, Councilor Gary Medvigy said more focus needs to be given to what’s happening in the community currently.

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“I see a huge gap. We have thousands of sidewalks broken or not connected, or ramps not put in place … or installed incorrectly,” Medvigy said. “Baby boomers are now becoming homeless because of fixed incomes. The ever-increasing rents is creating a housing crisis this country hasn’t seen since the Great Depression.”

Medvigy said the housing situation is an emergency that needs to be addressed now.

Ellinger said some issues, especially those that rely of code amendments or changes, are beyond the scope of the readiness plan.

Councilor Sue Marshall suggested the Development and Engineering Advisory Board review the proposed plan, as well.

“It would be good for them to develop this lens of what can be more accessible for our aging population,” Marshall said.

The county council has scheduled a public hearing on the Aging Readiness Plan at 10 a.m. on Sept. 26. The meeting can be watched live on www.CVTV.org or attend in person in the sixth-floor hearing room at the Public Service Center, 1300 Franklin St., in Vancouver.