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3 Ways Local Agencies on Aging Can Improve Low-Income Seniors’ Access to Community Services

Recently, DC Council held a performance oversight hearing for the DC Office on Aging (DCOA). Community Preservation and Development Corporation’s (CPDC) Director of Aging in Community Dr. Katrina Polk offers ideas on how the District–and agencies serving seniors across the nation–can improve older adults’ access to vital community-based services.

  1. More Outreach, More Access

Programs and resources available to seniors are only as good as the extent to which they are accessed.

In Washington, DC, three out of four adults 60 years of age or older are not aware of resources offered by the DCOA Aging and Disability Resource Centers’ (ADRC).*

More than 25% of these individuals are low-income residents living in subsidized housing. As residents of low-income housing are more likely to suffer from multiple chronic diseases than those living in non-low-income housing, their awareness of and access to services is critical.

CPDC Director of Aging in Community, Dr. Katrina Polk, suggests that an enhanced community outreach plan relying on stronger partnerships could increase awareness of access to services.  She recommends appointing community liaisons to perform onsite outreach, gauge the needs and issues in communities and direct them to available programs and services.

“Resources mean nothing without access,” Polk said. “Convening focus groups with providers of community aging services in each Ward and organizing regular informational meetings for service providers could help improve outreach.”

  1. Go Mobile

The DC Office on Aging Ambassador Program trains residents as ‘ambassadors’—or points of contact in their communities who spread the word about available programs and services offered through the ADRC Senior Service Network.

In light of recent transportation cuts to the senior network, this program could be more effective and expanded if it were mobile.

“By bringing this program into senior communities, more volunteers can be trained as ambassadors. That could result in greater information sharing and increased awareness of and access to programs and services,” Polk said. “DCOA should also consider offering a small stipend or other incentive for residents to become trained ambassadors in their communities.”

  1. Better Communication through Technology

A 2015 study by CPDC found that many residents, unaware of ADRC services, wanted more information aboutaging in place, housing vouchers and preventing nursing home placement.

To increase access for low-income seniors living across CPDC’s seven D.C. affordable housing communities (seniors represent one-third of the organization’s DC residents), CPDC recently launched a first-of-its-kind aging in community model for seniors supportive services designed to improve the quality of independent living experiences among senior residents.

The program was pioneered at CPDC’s Overlook at Oxon Run, a community of nearly 200 seniors in DC’s Ward 8, and features an innovative new mobile app allowing residents to receive alerts and access the most relevant local resources on health and wellness, disease management, transportation, food security and more. 

*according to the agency’s 2012 Senior Assessment.

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