This county plan was created in addition to the regular state four-year plans required by the Older Americans Act, in response to drastic changes in funding and organizational structure within Orange County (due in part to the Great Recession and California’s state budget issues). In addition, Orange County is aging faster than California, with one in six residents projected over age 60 by 2035 (page 16). While putting forth an inventory of services available to older adults in Orange County, and laying out specific strategies and tactics for the Office on Aging to pursue, the document also presents the unique opportunities and problems facing Orange County.
The Orange County (OC) Office on Aging (along with its parent department, the Housing & Community Services Department) was combined with Parks, Animal Care and Public Libraries (page 25). This reorganization, coupled with a lack of department funding in a densely populated urban area, has created understandably high levels of frustration and turf battles. In any event, this document presents a detailed list of all of the various aging support services available across Orange County, and laments that the biggest on-going problem is that not enough seniors know about the available services.
The plan highlights include:
- Living in Orange County is expensive. A single family home cost $709,720 in 2007, and the County has a high cost of living. Combined with a rising tide of seniors over the next several years (well above the Californian average), the high cost of living makes for several challenges. Most evident is the issue of affordable housing and a rising propensity for seniors slipping into poverty. Complicating matters is that 19 percent of those older OC residents are responsible for their grandchildren. Currently, housing affordability options have more barriers than solutions.
- Orange County is incredibly ethnically diverse and still growing. It has a large Hispanic and Asian population base, creating tremendous linguistic challenges (over 40 percent speak a language other than English at home). As no single ethnic group constitutes 50 percent of the population, OC is “now considered to be a “majority/minority” county (page 16).
- The OC has robust, albeit overwhelmed, senior services with high community support. Two programs stand out in the plan. The first is the Aging & Disability Resource Connection (ADRC). The ADRC program “provides supports and services to older adults, family caregivers and persons with disabilities” (page 27). The second program is AmeriCorps WECARE, a collaborative partnership that works on volunteer training and mobilization for seniors. WECARE is in its early stages, but is a major part of future efforts.
How to Use
Community planners face overwhelming challenges. This document reads as a bureaucratic nightmare with pages and pages of “requirements.” However, despite the sea of paperwork, organizational limitations, and underfunding, there still emerges a clear passion in Orange County for getting age ready. Starting on page 46, the plan lays out specific actions the Office on Aging will take over the following three years. Top programs include supporting the WECARE and ADRC efforts. Ultimately, the lesson community planners can take from this plan is that collaboration and cooperation across service providers is key to helping seniors thrive.