In summary

Budgets and legislation dictating mandated actions are needed immediately to deal with issues affecting California’s older adults.

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By Dev Berger, Special to CalMatters

Dev Berger is a retired health policy consultant and planner with more than 40 years of experience with the California Legislature, state government and in the private sector.

The state of California has a $45 billion budget surplus. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s proposed $285 billion spending proposal kept the surplus in mind when earmarking money for COVID-19, climate change, homelessness and other issues. 

Missing, however, is adequate funding for California’s largest growing demographic – older adults – who continue being stiffed big time in government spending. 

California’s high cost of living, coupled with inadequate state funding, has created massive shortages of affordable housing, caregivers, community-based resources, affordable long-term care services at all levels, and more. Factor in fixed-incomes and insufficient pensions (or no pensions), and you have an epidemic of suffering and expanded poverty. 

We have played Ring-Around-the-Rosie with inadequate planning, data and no credible action plans for too long. Yes, we have plans, like the Master Plan on Aging – but no mandated, immediate action plan. Many of us see the Master Plan on Aging as a frustrating subterfuge for the decades of not addressing older adult issues.

Before President Ronald Reagan crippled public health, I was California’s last long-term care and intensive care neonatal health planner. I worked with local health systems agencies on data, planning and recommendations culminating in an annual action-driven state health plan. 

The plan showed gaps in services, need assessments, data, and it specified immediate actions for improving the problems. Thanks to a lazy Legislature that doesn’t want state reports, lobbyists for special interest groups helped destroy data collection and made planning difficult. Chaos and guesstimating are how we operate now. It is nightmarish.

We don’t know how many long-term care facilities or how much home health we need in each of the 58 California counties. We don’t collect health professions data on geriatricians or other critical health professionals, so they’re not on the radar. 

We lack sufficient state staffing to address escalating abuse and neglect in nursing homes. The conflicts and duplication of services among state-funded and state-supported organizations, like the Area Agencies on Aging, the Aging Disability Resource Centers, and the county information and referral nonprofits assisting older adults, lack oversight. 

As a result, they trip over one another, and adequate reporting and responses on services and resources for homeless, hungry, abused and neglected older adults goes missing.

Of all the “isms” – ageism receives the least attention in our culture. As a septuagenarian observing declining budgets and services to older adults, I am furious that we ignore the geriatrician shortage, or that we don’t copy other successful state models addressing affordable housing. 

We have a $45 billion surplus – so what’s the excuse for stiffing older adults in past and recent budgets? Why are we still bottom feeders?

Older adults are considered disposable. We are easily forgotten in budgets and programs. Years of inadequate California budgets testify to that. If you hurt one age group, ultimately, you hurt them all and cripple the intergenerational connection.

We don’t want any more stinking plans that end up in a slush pile. Budgets and legislation dictating mandated actions are needed immediately. We know the problems. If you don’t know what it’s like to be invisible, trust me you will as an older person. 

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