Aging in place can be challenging in Routt County
A local resident since 1969 who worked in social services and real estate, Catherine Lykken has decided, at age 85, not to renew her professional real estate license next year.
After living alone for many years following her husband’s death in 1998, Lykken has decided to downsize again and move this fall into an almost 500-square-foot unit in the Selbe Apartments, operated by the nonprofit Routt County Foundation for Senior Citizens.
“I feel fortunate that opening came up, and I met the qualifications. I don’t know what I would have done if any opening hadn’t come up. I would probably have played it by ear,” said Lykken, a longtime advocate for senior citizen issues.
Choices for affordable or attainable housing for seniors hoping to live the rest of their lives in Routt County are become increasingly limited. Experts note that safe and sufficient housing plays an important role as a social determinant of good health.
“It is more difficult to live independently, to age in place in Routt County, than it is in a metro area. We just don’t have the variety and numbers of service available,” said Leigh Hull, aging services coordinator at Northwest Colorado Health.
Chrissy Esposito, policy analyst with the nonprofit Colorado Health Institute, said U.S. Census Data shows 49% of the older adults in Routt Country are “very likely to spend retirement in their current community.”
For the significant percentage of seniors needing nonmedical help in order to be able to stay in their own homes, resources are stretched thin, local senior agencies say. The consistent need for at-home help for handyman maintenance, chores, snow removal and transportation was highlighted in a March survey of 280 regional seniors conducted through Northwest Colorado Health, Hull said.
Assistance for seniors is complicated by a number of factors, including a local shortage of employees, the expensive housing market, the gradually increasing aging population in Colorado, and more people moving to and retiring in Routt County. The need for assistance with everything from grocery shopping to lawn mowing becomes even more important as seniors experience health issues or accidents.
In Routt County, almost a quarter (24.2%) of the adult population age 65 and older live alone compared to almost 9% of the overall population, according to 2019 American Community Survey data compiled by Colorado Health Institute. Of adults age 60 and older in Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco and Jackson counties, about 85% own their own homes, Esposito noted, indicating a significant need for vendors for home maintenance and aging-in-place modifications.
“Many older adults live on a fixed income further exacerbating the challenges of maintaining a home,” Hull said.
The March survey indicated an even higher number of regional seniors living alone. Of those seniors surveyed in Routt, Moffat, Rio Blanco, Jackson and Grand counties, 57% said they lived alone. Hull said that higher result is likely due to the fact the survey was distributed largely to seniors already receiving services such as meal assistance.
Local officials are now focused on establishing a nonmedical chore service. April Sigman, executive director of Routt County Council on Aging, said her staff is “very excited” to be working to create a nonmedical home care service, with a launch goal of Oct. 31.
Nonemergent medical transportation resources are also improving, Hull said. MedRide to now available for locals covered by Medicaid. More information can be found via the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments Mountain Ride website at MTNRide.org.
Routt County Council on Aging is the official county hub for senior resources and referrals. For more information: 970-879-0633 or RCCoAging.org
The 2021 Older Adults Needs Assessment Survey compiled by the Aging Services Coalition of Northwest Colorado can be found through a search on the Northwest Colorado Health website.
To find services supported by the Area Agency on Aging of Northwest Colorado, visit AGNC.org/area-agency-on-aging-of-northwest-colorado.
“Currently, they are bringing drivers in from the Western Slope to serve our region. Before MedRide, Medicaid did not have a contracted provider in our region,” Hull said, noting MedRide is working to hire more drivers.
Even when local seniors make the often gut-wrenching decision to relocate and give up their own homes, housing choices in affordable, assisted living locations are slim. Routt County is home to one facility providing a multi-level, progressive continuum of care, Casey’s Pond, which offers four levels: independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and rehab, and memory support. Casey’s Pond is the only such facility within a 150-mile radius, according to Melissa Lahay, marketing director, and currently has a waiting list for the three levels of services beyond independent living.
Lahay said the waitlist is partially due to staff shortages that many employers in Routt County are experiencing, as well as increases in interest in the senior living community that heightened after the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve seen an increase in people moving into care neighborhoods. Older adults have declined through the pandemic, those living in their own homes and in communities, due to isolation and decreased movement,” Lahay noted, adding most of the residents at Casey’s Pond have family members who live in Routt County.
Space is available in the private pay, independent living section at Casey’s Pond, where the smallest unit of a 250-square-foot studio apartment includes all utilities, two meals per day, weekly housekeeping, activities and transportation around town for $2,700 per month.
The Haven 20-room assisted living home in Hayden owned by Northwest Colorado Health for residents 55 and older currently is full with a waiting list of six to 12 months for the first time in years, Director Adrienne Idsal said.
“We are certainly limited being in rural Northwest Colorado,” Idsal said of services for seniors. “The services we do have are high quality but limited. We need more affordable senior housing, and we need an increase in more services to support people in their homes.”
Sigman said a number of Routt County Council on Aging clients moved out of the county during the pandemic to be closer to family or to more services in larger areas, such as Grand Junction, Colorado Springs or Fort Collins.
The nonprofit Routt County Foundation for Senior Citizens oversees three senior apartment complexes with a total 61 one-bedroom units that stay in high demand, including Aspen View Manor in Oak Creek, Mountain View Manor in downtown Steamboat and Selbe Apartments off Pine Grove Road. The newest of the facilities is Selbe built 31 years ago, and Aspen View and Mountain View were built in the 1970s.
Transitioning senior Lykken knows two couples who moved away to assisted living facilities in Highlands Ranch. She said aging in place in Routt County can be accomplished “with difficulty,” noting, “It’s pricey to live here.”
Lykken does not have children of her own but was able to live independently with the occasional help of good friends and assistance when nieces and nephews visit. She cheerfully notes only a few things she cannot do easily on her own anymore, such as change a fitted sheet and vacuum with a bulky machine. This week, she is trying to find someone to fix a toilet seat, noting that busy construction-related businesses “don’t want small jobs.”
“There is not enough of a spotlight on senior needs,” Hull said. “Older adults’ needs should not be an afterthought but a frame of mind in the way we plan, fund and live.”
To reach Suzie Romig, call 970-871-4205 or email sromig@SteamboatPilot.com.
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