DADE CITY, Fla. — Two Tampa Bay organizations are in the midst of a first-of-its-kind effort to gauge the unmet needs of older residents in Pasco and Pinellas counties.
- 10,000 surveys were sent out last month
- Pinellas County ranks third in state for people 85 years old and older
- Second focus group meeting is scheduled for May 15
- LINK: Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas
The Pinellas Community Foundation and the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas sent out 10,000 surveys to randomly selected households last month in which at least one person is 60 years old or older.
It asks them to rate services in a number of areas, including safety, health care, and opportunities to take part in social activities.
"Transportation is an issue. Affordable housing is an issue," said Ann Marie Winter, executive director of the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco-Pinellas. "Pasco County is booming with seniors, and we need to identify what their needs are so that we can adequately address them so this is a great place to grow up and grow old."
Winter said nearly 30 percent of the two counties' populations are 60 years old or older. She noted that's among the highest in the state outside of south Florida.
Those numbers are only expected to grow. According to Winter, 850 people move to the Sunshine State every day, and 46 percent of them are seniors. She said Pinellas County actually ranks third in the state for people 85 years old and older.
"Are we planning for hospitals and doctors offices in those areas where seniors need to get medical care? Socialization – we know that social isolation is a huge issue with seniors," Winter said of possible future challenges.
AAAPP and the Pinellas Community Foundation held a focus group at the Dade City Senior Center Tuesday. There, residents could voice their concerns whether or not they were among the random households to receive the surveys.
"The west side of the county has so much to offer that the east side doesn't have, and we'd like to see more come here," said Delores Gast, 84, of Pasco County. For Gast, that means more social activities like bus trips and classes for seniors.
Francilia Jones said she took three buses from her home in Zephyrhills to make Tuesday's focus group. Not surprisingly, she listed transportation as among the senior services that can improve, but also noted the importance of activities.
"A swimming pool and more activities, like exercises, that's very important for us," Jones said.
The survey is being conducted in partnership with Pasco and Pinellas counties and the cities of Dade City, New Port Richey, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater. Dade City Mayor Pro Tem Eunice M. Penix attended the focus group, as well, and not just as a city official. Penix said she regularly visits the senior center to take part in games or exercise classes.
In her eyes, she said Dade City isn't yet ready to handle the expected growth in the older population, which is why she said the survey is so important.
"We don't have the housing, for one thing. Transportation is not all together, either, for seniors, and we don't have a lot of cultural events, places to go for cultural events here," Penix said.
Winter said making sure the counties are prepared for an aging population isn’t just beneficial for older residents.
"They're going to end up using services more so. Adult protective services is going to be significantly impacted because more seniors are going to be potentially abused or neglected if we’re not starting to address these needs as soon as possible," she said.
According to Winter, once results of the survey are in, they’ll be released to the public.
She said the plan is to establish a coalition of stakeholders who will come together, identify key issues, and work toward solutions. The results can also be used by non-profits, community organizations, and local governments when applying for state or federal grants. Both AAAPP and the Pinellas Community Foundation are reminding recipients of the surveys that the deadline to return them is May 21.
A second focus group is also being held on Wednesday, May 15 at the Galen Wilson Senior Center at 8600 Galen Wilson Blvd. in Port Richey from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.