The Forgotten Age: A looming crisis for seniors in the Upstate

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(WSPA) — For Arthur Cummings life moves slow. But it moves.
 
“I just celebrated my 95th birthday,” said Cummings on a warm October morning.
 
Arthur could tell you that getting old isn’t easy. That’s why he’s doing it at an assisted living facility in Spartanburg named Eden Terrace, where help is just a bell ring away.
 
“They have alarms on the wall if you have any problems, you just ring the bell and an attendant comes to see what the problem is.”
 
Arthur said his wife needed around-the-clock care after falling and that he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease later in life.
 
They needed the extra help, and for them, it came from his nurse.
 
“He’s hilarious, I love going to see him,” said Melissa Weaver, an RN case manager with home health at Interim HealthCare. 
 
Melissa said she has 30 to 40 patients like Arthur who she cares for a week, and it’s not easy work. Their declining health conditions can tug at the heart.
 
“To see somebody work hard their whole life and then struggle when they’re elderly is hard,” she explained.
 
As more elderly need the help, Melissa said she often wonders how she’ll keep up.
 
Baby boomers are now in their 70s and climbing as the entire nation faces a nursing shortage.
 
“It concerns me. Will I be able to handle it and will there be enough people to take care of these patients?”
 
South Carolina is one of the hardest hit states when it comes to the shortage of healthcare professionals.
 
Studies show that in about 10 years, the state is projected to have the fourth worst nursing shortage in the country, according to RegisteredNursing.org.
 
In about 20 to 30 years, the number of seniors living in the Upstate is expected to double as people, attracted to it’s beauty, move to the area to retire.
 
It’s not just health care facilities watching the storm brew on the horizon.
 
Local business leader Dean Hybl, Executive Director of Ten at the Top, explained that a silver tsunami is coming and that the Upstate isn’t ready.
 
“It’s there, it’s there every day and if we’re not addressing it’s not going away,” he said. “It’s just going to get worse.”
 
According to Hybl, the Upstate has a severe shortage of resources to help the most vulnerable.
 
That includes transportation options like buses, food delivery services like Meals on Wheels, and even everyday services like lawn care that seniors often can’t do on their own.
 
He pointed out that not all seniors have ways to go out and get what they need to survive.
 
“Worst case scenario is obviously you have people who don’t have food, don’t have people coming to help them, they can’t get to appointments. I mean, every senior has the potential to be really left on an island by themselves.”
 
While there are organizations to help, many are already in hot water.
 
The Appalachian Area Agency on Aging is the Upstate’s largest resource center.
 
Director Tom Womack said out of the 100 or so phone calls he gets a day from seniors, many share horror stories.
 
“We have seniors calling every day, sometimes reaching me. They’re crying because of whatever situation they’re facing. It could be that they’re hungry, it could be that they’re left with their grandchildren, trying to raise their grandchildren because their parents are gone.”
 
According to Womack, the money needed to help everyone is not there now, with hundreds of people on their waiting list.
 
Looking ahead, he believes dollars will be stretched even thinner and people will suffer.
 
“Will they get to their dialysis appointments? Will they make it to their chemotherapy appointments? Will they even make it to their semi-annual checkups? Without that funding… No.”
 
The ultimate price to pay, Womack said, could be lives.
 
“If we don’t get the funding that’s needed to run the programs that we have, people are going to die.”
 
The question remains: Will seniors age with grace?  Or will the most vulnerable fade into a forgotten age.
 
“All of us hopefully are going to age, and hopefully we’re going to be in a position to take care of ourselves and our loved ones,” said Womack. “But what if we’re not?”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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