July 9, 2011

USA: With many great senior living facilities, county becomes a retirement destination

GOSHEN, Indiana / The GoshenNews / Local News / July 9, 2011

Goshen has a bit more gray hair than its neighbors

By Shelley Bradbury

With 14.9 percent of Goshen’s population at least 65 years old or older, Goshen has a higher percentage of senior citizens than any of its neighboring cities, according to data from the 2010 Census.

Elkhart supports a senior citizen population of 11.5 percent, Mishawaka has 13.6 percent. About 12 percent of South Bend’s population is over age 65, and in Warsaw, about 13 percent is.

“We’re becoming known for having good retirement facilities here and being a good community to retire in,” Goshen mayor Allan Kauffman said. “People are moving here from other states when they are into their retirement age.”

Across Indiana, communities are getting older as the Baby Boomers start to hit retirement. The trend poses both unique opportunities and challenges for Goshen.

Virginia Kreider, 90, right, waits for her lunch with Romaine Martin, 102, Friday afternoon in Evergreen Place at Greencroft Goshen. Kreider has been living at Greencroft for three years. Shelley Bradbury

“I’ve talked to other mayors from other cities who would love to have retirement facilities like Greencroft or Waterford Crossing,” he said. “The over-65 population as a sector of the overall population is the wealthiest sector that there is. Sure, there are a lot of elderly people on fixed incomes, but there is also a lot of wealth in that group. So when you have a retirement center, you are bringing a lot of wealth into the community that supports the economy.”

Greencroft Goshen houses between 1,100 and 1,200 residents, and the average age of entry is 79, Jennifer Hayes, vice president of marketing and development for Greencroft Communities, said.

“I think the population growth that is projected for persons over the age of 65 is positive,” she said, “especially for the local economy. Once they move here, they patronize our businesses and use the services in the area.”

However, the larger number of senior citizens also poses certain challenges, Tammy Smith, executive director of the Council on Aging of Elkhart County, said. “It’s going to be a huge issue,” she said. “Right now transportation is already a huge issue for many seniors in Goshen.”

Although the Council on Aging provides a door-to-door transportation service for senior citizens, increased need and decreased funding has forced the Council on Aging to start — as of July 1 — charging for some trips that they previously provided for free.

“For us, just over the last six months, the increase in Goshen has been phenomenal,” Smith said. “Phenomenal.” The Council provides between 1,000 and 1,300 trips a month to senior citizens in Elkhart County. Trips relating to medical and nutritional needs are still free, but other trips, such as to the library, now cost between five and 10 dollars.

Smith said the community needs to be aware of the challenges, because the population of senior citizens will continue to grow.

“The community needs to embrace that everyone is aging,” she said. “The numbers that you are seeing right now from the census are going to jump drastically over the next 10 years. Because of that, if we don’t get a handle on this now, if we don’t have effective programing in place and alternatives for seniors ready to go, then the community will hit a crisis.”

Many senior citizens who cannot afford to live in Greencroft or other senior-oriented condominium complexes also need help to pay for prescriptions, food and shelter, Smith added.

Kauffman said he sees more positives than negatives to the increased number of senior citizens in Goshen.

“I don’t see it as any kind of drain,” he said. “A tremendous number of volunteers in our community come from the retirement facilities. They’ve got time on their hands and they are sharing it with the community. I see it as a huge net positive.”

Joanna Woolace, a social worker at Indiana University Health Goshen Hospital, said she thinks the senior citizen population offers Goshen plenty of potential.

“There is just a wealth of knowledge,” she said. “If we could somehow tap that knowledge that the elderly population has it would be so beneficial for our community. There are other societies, like in Japan or China, where they really respect their elders, and I wish we would. They have a wealth of wisdom, because they’ve just lived a long time.”

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