Aging population taxes county services

Ozaukee residents are older than most in the state, and that means an increasing demand for assistance that ranges from elder abuse prevention to meal delivery

VOLUNTEER FRANK HAUPT was greeted at the door by Virginia Vollmer at her Grafton home as Haupt delivered a meal provided by the Ozaukee County senior meals program. With the county’s population aging, more seniors are opting for home-delivered meals rather than attending congregate meal centers, officials say. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
DAN BENSON
Ozaukee Press staff

Ozaukee County residents are older than the state average, they will continue to get older and they will stay older for a long time, according to state data.

That poses a number of issues for the Ozaukee County government and the services it provides.

The percentage of Ozaukee County’s population older than 65 will rise from the 15-to-18% range in 2015 to 18 to 21% in 2020 and to 24 to 27% in 2030 and continue through 2040.

It’s not just those 65 and older.

“Even when we’re looking at the population of people over 85, we have a larger-than-average percentage than the rest of the state,” Ozaukee County Human Services Director Liza Drake said.

While the rest of the state is aging too, most other counties are not as aged as Ozaukee. Milwaukee and Dane counties’ over-65  population is less than 15% and is expected to stay that way for years.

The Ozaukee County Board recently approved hiring another social worker in the Human Services Department to handle a marked increase in the number of referrals the department is receiving  involving elder abuse and other issues, especially for those 80 years old or older. Referrals to the department have more than doubled since 2009, when there were 112, and totaled more 253 in 2018, Drake told the County Board.

“Those are just the ones that are reported. We know there are others that aren’t,” Drake said.

Part of the reason for the increase is there are more seniors than before “and part of it is we’re working to raise awareness about elder abuse,” Drake said. “People know how to access and report things that don’t look right.”

The number of referrals has risen steadily since 2009, but compounding the issue for Drake’s department is a law passed last year that requires staff to investigate every referral made, whereas in the past staff could use their discretion to investigate referrals.

“It created a higher volume that we needed to follow up on and therefore took more time for two staff members,” Drake said.

In addition, Drake said the cases they see today are “more complex.”

“A case we get may not be a cut-and-dried medical issue. There may be layers,” she said. “Is there emotional abuse or are they being taken advantage of financially. We find that a lot of situations now where adult children are living with their parents or elderly aunt and uncle, which may be great, to provide support, but not always.”

The largest category of elder abuse is self-neglect, which in 2009 accounted for about half of all referrals and today makes up two-thirds of referrals.

Self-neglect includes living conditions not kept safe or sanitary, not following through with medical care or using a stove to heat a dwelling.

“It could be a host of things,” Drake said. “Part of our job is go in and discern whether they know what to do in case of an emergency or ask their neighbor or family member for help.”

Self-neglect referrals come from neighbors, family members, medical personnel and others who are worried about the senior citizen, Drake said.

One of her goals, Drake said, is to create a “dementia-friendly” community in which businesses, service clubs, restaurants, churches and other organizations are aware and on the look-out for seniors who may be having trouble living alone.

“People go out to eat or go to the bank and people start to see a decline. That’s a great referral source,” Drake said. 

“Seniors know they’re starting to struggle. What better way to help than to give people some support. People can reach out to dementia,” she said.

With the senior population aging and staying home longer, the county meal program also is changing, Drake said.

The number of home-delivered meals to senior citizens has increased from about 21,000 meals in 2013 to about 30,000 today, while the number of people visiting congregate meal sites has dropped from about 19,000 to about 14,000 over that same period. 

“As people age, their mobility is reduced and even their desire to go out in the community,” Drake said. “So when you are not as mobile you stay home.”

The state funds home-delivered meal programs and congregate programs separately. But the growth in the home-delivered meals has required the county to apply tax levy dollars to cover the shortfall, Drake said.

“We are asking the state to just pool the money (for both programs) into one pot and allow us to meet the needs of our community,” Drake said. 

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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