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Aging region tests groups

Area social service workers knew it would take a small army to help seniors sign up for Medicare Part D, the government's new prescription drug program.

Area social service workers knew it would take a small army to help seniors sign up for Medicare Part D, the government's new prescription drug program.

It wasn't hard for several agencies to come up with a plan. They were already working together through the Cass County Elder Services Coordinating Committee, a group that keeps tabs on aging issues.

"You had your network in place when you had the need," said Kathy Hogan, executive director of Cass County Social Services. She started the group of about 40 service providers and advocacy groups a year ago.

As the region ages, collaboration among agencies, advocates and service provides becomes more important, she said.

Seniors comprised 10.6 percent of the population in Cass and Clay counties in 2000. They are expected to number 18.8 percent in 2020, North Dakota and Minnesota data show.


The predicted numbers, combined with increasing life spans, could pose a significant challenge for agencies that serve seniors, Hogan said.

But much is uncertain. For instance, no one knows how many seniors will require assistance. Help for seniors could range from transportation and housekeeping to healthcare services and money management - or none at all.

Take 94-year-old Tenie Peet, for example. She's lived for eight years in a two-bedroom apartment at River View Place, a south Fargo retirement housing complex. She doesn't plan to leave anytime soon.

"I hope I don't have to go into a nursing home - that's how long I plan to live here," Peet said.

She lives independently except for help with housecleaning, which she doesn't want to do.

"I think it's very hard to know what it's going to do to us - many of the people who move here are very independent," Hogan said. "But we do know there's going to be a change."

The Cass County Elder Services Coordinating Committee is one way for agencies and provides to get ready.

Starting in January 2005, committee members focused on updating a directory of senior resources, educating people about state law changes to North Dakota's new health care directive, and educating people about Medicare Part D.


A subcommittee decided to use a network of trained volunteers to help seniors sign up for the drug prescription program using computers at the Cass County Annex and at other sites. A test run of the sign-up program will be conducted this week.

The agencies probably wouldn't have formed a coordinated effort without the senior services committee, said Brian Arett, Fargo Senior Commission executive director.

"I don't think we would have gotten the kind of synergy that we did by pulling this subcommittee together," he said.

Other organizations are also preparing.

For example, Riverview Place may eventually help seniors stay in their homes by bringing services such as meals or home repairs to them.

The housing community offers independent and assisted living. It's starting to focus on wellness by offering a pool and recreation area, which may be opened to other older residents in the metro area, said Bonnie Peters, director of marketing and resident relations at Riverview Place.

"We need to look at creative ways of meeting the needs of a group of seniors that are just starting to talk to us," Peters said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Andrea Domaskin at (701) 241-5556

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