The word "neighborhood" means different things to different people. And with age, that definition continues to evolve. Friends living in a house a few streets over, a favorite local grocer, or a familiar schoolyard often become a distant memory for elderly in the region. For many, the new reality is trying to come to terms with needing assistance. And for those providing social services to northeast Ohio's seniors, the idea of community is shifting in yet another way. In the next installment of our series, "Here Goes the Neighborhood," WKSU's Renita Jablonski takes a look at the graying neighborhood:

Listen:

Minnie Coomes has just finished eating lunch in the dining room of White Pond Villa and things are getting rowdy at her table, just a little teasing between friends. Coomes playfully lifts her left hand to her silver head of hair.

Minnie Coomes: It's great when we don't have arguments! (laughter)

The senior residential community is located just off of I-77 in Akron. It's managed by Richmond Heights based Associated Estates. Coomes is 87-years old. Her description of a neighborhood changed 18 years ago when she first moved to White Pond Villa.

Minnie Coomes: Well I sold my home in Silver Lake and I had someplace to live. I went with my daughter six months and she brought me over here. I like it.

Coomes, giggling as she clutches a Styrofoam cup, is sitting next to another resident, Pearl Trebisky. Trebisky is president of the building's social club. She jokes about why the women at the table really consider White Pond to be their neighborhood.

Pearl Trebisky: Basically we're too old to go anywhere else.

The truth is, the 75-year old, unlike some of her other lunchtime friends, is still able to get where she needs to go by driving her own car. And Trebisky touches directly on one of the biggest challenges when it comes to providing aging adults with the things they need to be independent for as long as possible. In fact, it's what influences how Ed Kaufman identifies a neighborhood. Kaufman is President and CEO of Akron-based Mature Services Incorporated. The non-profit organization provides a wide variety of social services for older people, from nutrition programs like the one Minnie Coomes and Pearl Trebisky are taking advantage of, to senior employment opportunities, and home-care.

Ed Kaufman: Where we are now, in White Pond Villa, the area around here, there's several high rises, there's, you know, several different kinds of activities and all going on around here, that's a neighborhood. But now we're looking more, a neighborhood being a regional area where so many of our programs, if you don't think regionally you're lost because things like transportation is a regional issue, it's not just a neighborhood issue.

It's something he says from a lot of experience. Kaufman's been distributing social services to seniors in northeast Ohio for 30 years. And as he's seen populations shift, with more people moving out to the region's suburbs creating wider transportation needs, in almost that same amount of time, there's one thing that hasn't changed"the level of funding supporting agencies like Mature Services.

Ed Kaufman: Every year now we are expected to do more service and with the same dollars basically and that has proved not only a hardship for us but other agencies as well.

Kirk Davis: When you look at the funding for services in the community it's been stagnant since 1980.

Kirk Davis is Vice President of Planning and Quality Improvement at the Area Agency on Aging 10 B, serving Portage, Summit, Stark and Wayne Counties. Basically, the A-A-A is the local clearinghouse to implement state and federal aging programs.

Kirk Davis: We've lost, from Older Americans Act dollars, and Title III dollars, we've lost a tremendous amount of buying power just because the increase in inflation over all that time period so our ability to do services in the community has declined drastically at probably the most important point of dealing with this enormous glut of seniors that we're going to have.

Davis is talking about aging baby boomers. He regularly communicates with the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging that supports Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain and Medina Counties about how to stretch those dollars.

Kirk Davis: We're trying to lead the way by advocating for home health services, a cheaper method of keeping people in their neighborhoods.

One of the more successful initiatives aimed at doing that is Ohio's Passport Program. It gives low income elderly who need nursing home-level care options to stay at home. For those that qualify, Passport pays for things like a home health aide, delivered meals, even medical equipment. Other things aren't taking off as well. Last week state figures showed only 14 people have moved out of a nursing home to cheaper assisted-living centers under new state rules designed to decrease Medicaid costs. On top of that, since the legislation went into effect this summer, out of the state's roughly 500 assisted living facilities, just 22 have gotten certification to accept patients under the new system. An official at the Ohio Department of Aging says the rules are being looked at as a test and many state lawmakers are already calling for reform. The Area Agency's Kirk Davis says at the local level, leaders seem to understand the importance of helping healthy seniors stay independent.

Davis: Actually Summit County, Stark County, and Portage County, you have levies that support the transportation programs and that kind of is each county trying to support those bus facilities for people out in the community.

Davis says one of the easiest ways to provide transportation, meal, and recreational services to the aging population is to have people with the same needs in the same place. And from there, one is able to choose appropriate programs. For example, Akron's Metro SCAT bus, that stands for Special Citizens Area Transportation, makes regular pick-ups at senior apartment facilities like White Pond Villa.

Pearl Trebisky: I haven't got patience to go on SCAT.

It may not be for everyone but for 87-year old Lillian Eiseman, who doesn't drive anymore, it's become a way of life.

Lillian Eiseman: I use SCAT to go to doctors, if I have to go shopping I'll use SCAT, course if you have no other way to go, that's it so, I like it.

Eisman's lived at White Pond for nine years. For her, the best parts of living in the scaled down version of a neighborhood, are the neighbors.

I'm Renita Jablonski, 89.7 WKSU.



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