The Utah Division of Aging and Adult Services (DAAS) submitted this four-year strategic plan in compliance with the Older Americans Act. Community planners and local governments can learn from innovative solutions and the proactive integration of program initiatives or partnerships. Community planners and local governments can also learn by knowing what hinders those solutions or initiatives. Sometimes, this takes shape in the “absence” of organizational alignment, funding, or strategy. In other words, knowing what not to do is as important as what to do.
On the one hand, Utah is special. It is the youngest state in the country and is expected to remain younger than all other states into the foreseeable future (thanks in part to high birth rates among Mormons). On the other hand, Utah is in trouble. The Utah DAAS faces serious challenges. Though it serves an older population reliant on Medicaid, it is not structured to align with Health Services. Utah is decreasing investments in aging services (page 18), the Commission on Aging has been phased out (an extension is now being attempted under the University of Utah) and finally the DAAS has been dramatically reduced so strategies are primarily accomplished through its Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs).
In addition to those issues, the DAAS created this strategic plan based on 2000 U.S. Census figures rather than 2010 Census figures because the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget (GOPB) is still “being processed and is not available at the time of [this] submission” (page 11). The general perception of the older population within the State is that seniors are fine and healthy now, based on evidence that supports that. A recent transportation ridesharing pilot program was cut because there simply weren’t enough riders to offset the costs. Like many DAAS’s around the country who face challenges in funding, organizational support and alignment, or even still fighting the perception they aren’t needed, the DAAS has tried to coordinate, support and encourage where it can. Community planners and local governments can learn from this report that certain components are necessary for good age preparation:
- The state seems to believe that age shift planning and preparation are vital to the state’s economic future. Utah is advertising itself as a great place to retire. In addition, 70 percent of its senior population lives in one of its four urban centers. This makes issues regarding livability, transit, health, and a host of other issues highly pertinent to the economic vitality of the state. Federal funding may come and go. But if there is institutional “buy-in” new solutions moving forward will be found.
- Information is key. Trends and data have to be as up-to-date as possible in order to create effective forecasting. The GOPB stopped producing annual statistical data, because it was all based on the 2000 U.S. Census. If that is the only source of information on a state’s constituency, then this makes sense (though not for 2010 Census in planning for 2011-2015). States, DAAS’s and AAA’s need to research and survey locally and regularly beyond relying on U.S. Census data. They have to know their own constituency as reflected from a variety of sources.
- Having a balanced approach between the central DAAS and local AAA’s makes for better funding options. The reason state plans are broader than the conglomeration of regional AAA plans is precisely because there are state-wide initiatives and services that may not be pertinent for all AAAs. In addition, partnerships can be formed by the DAAS with other organizations (universities, non-profits, businesses, etc.) that aren’t necessarily beneficial at the AAA level alone. These include ongoing pilot programs. It’s perfectly okay to have pilot programs fail (as the ride-sharing program reflected in Utah’s State Plan does). But that should never hinder efforts to improve infrastructure and livability for all.
- Organizational alignment is foundational to efficiency. Knowing which departments are most needed for effective age preparation lead to the creation of organizational systems that expedite services to older adults that reduces redundancy and frustration.
How to Use
We applaud Utah’s DAAS for doing the best with what they have, despite tremendous internal and external obstacles. Community planners and local governments should use Utah’s State Plan as a case study for improving their own local planning efforts.
View full report: Utah State Plan on Aging – 2011-2015 (PDF – 5 MB)