Anne Arundel County may create new services or expand existing ones to meet the needs of its senior citizens, but those programs must be funded through "innovative approaches," county officials said.
"It was clear 10 years ago . . . the government's role in serving the aging was growing and would continue to grow," County Executive Robert R. Neall said Friday. "We just have to be more creative about paying for it."
Transportation for the elderly, for example, is a service that should be expanded, he said. But the county should consider hiring a private contractor to run the service or charge a fee "for those who can afford it" to keep the costs down, he said.
Mr. Neall spoke during a ceremony at the South County Senior Center in Edgewater to mark the 10th anniversary of the county's Department of Aging and to release the county's "Status and Needs Survey of Older Persons," conducted last year.
The study shows that most of Anne Arundel's senior citizens are living well, but some are "in dire need of immediate help," said Carol R. Baker, director of the county's Department of Aging.
She said the county decided on the survey because planners needed to know if help was reaching those most in need in the county's growing senior population. County administrators and planners said they will use the study to plan for county services over the next decade.
The $16,000 study was conducted by the department in conjunction with the Bethesda-based research firm of Ecosometrics Inc.
Mr. Neall said the cost could have been $100,000, but county officials saved money by persuading Ecosometrics to design the survey but to train Department of Aging staff to conduct the actual interviews of 605 randomly selected elderly residents.
Sampson Annan, a research consultant with Ecosometrics who helped design the study, said this is the first time the company has conducted a study using local employees.
But, he said, his analysis shows the results are valid. In fact, he said, there were fewer inconsistencies and less missing data in this study than in previous studies done elsewhere.
"I just hope 10 years from now the county will want to update the information and I can squeeze a lot more money out of them then," he joked to the 50 people at the center.
The survey found that 80 percent of county seniors own their homes, but as many as 1,100 are threatened by poverty, malnutrition, ill health, substandard housing or isolation.
The survey also found that nearly half of the county's seniors have annual incomes less than $15,000, nearly a quarter of them have problems because of insufficient income and one-third of those with incomes less than $8,000 do not participate in any of the 32 programs available to them.
Poor women 75 and older who do not live with a spouse are most likely to need help with severe problems, and three-quarters of the seniors take medication regularly, the survey said. More than one-third reported taking as many as nine different medications.
Ms. Baker said one statistic that "jumped out" was the lack of housing for middle-income elderly. None of the seniors with incomes between $15,000 and $30,000 lived in housing developed for the elderly, she said.
"This is clearly a need that should be addressed," Ms. Baker said.
The county recently formed the Senior Health Insurance Counseling and Assistance Program, or SHICAP, to help the elderly who are worried about selecting insurance and filling out insurance forms.
The department also intends to strengthen its respite care program to give a break to the large numbers of seniors who reported caring for another elderly person and will look into beefing up services delivered to seniors in their own homes, another need that surfaced, Ms. Baker said.