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Oklahoma's aging plan proposes support for growing demographic of seniors

OHS Director of Community Living, Aging and Protective Services Jeromy Buchanan speaks about Oklahoma's Multisector Plan on Aging.
Provided by Candor
OHS Director of Community Living, Aging and Protective Services Jeromy Buchanan speaks about Oklahoma's Multisector Plan on Aging.

Oklahoma seniors will outnumber children in the next ten years, meaning more services will be necessary to meet their needs. Oklahoma Human Services (OHS) unveiled a plan Tuesday to handle the shift based on input from stakeholders.

The ten-year Multisector Plan on Aging has been two years in the making. OHS held listening sessions across the state and worked with partners in health care, tribal nations and state agencies to tailor a plan for Oklahomans. The results of a report from OHS on the state of aging and a survey of Oklahoma seniors were also incorporated into it.

There were over 650,000 Oklahomans 60 and older in 2020. OHS projects the state’s older population will increase by 21% in the next ten years.

The agency’s executive director, Dr. Deborah Shropshire, said the consensus from stakeholders is the state isn’t ready for this shift.

“There already are difficulties for seniors to connect with the services they need, whether they be in health care, in human services, or even social connections,” Shropshire said. “While there have been some efforts that have been undertaken in this space over the last few years, there’s a need for a really concerted effort over the next five to ten years.”

The plan includes 13 goals and ways the agency hopes to accomplish them alongside partners. OHS Director of Community Living, Aging and Protective Services Jeromy Buchanan said some of the main challenges the agency gathered from surveying seniors included housing, transportation — especially in rural communities — and not knowing where to go for services.

“We want people to be equipped, our community partners, so that no matter where somebody goes, they can direct people, … provide all the options and really plug people in and help them connect to what they're looking for so we can meet people's needs,” Buchanan said.

The plan seeks to address those challenges alongside others. Objectives include providing more options for independent living, improving access to transportation, and expanding efforts to connect older adults with younger generations.

The plan also addresses workforce issues — for seniors and the people serving them. Shropshire said seniors are entering the workforce because of the cost of living, so the plan addresses how businesses can adopt age-friendly workplace practices to help senior workers thrive.

It further recognizes the need for more health care providers to serve senior Oklahomans. The plan includes goals to support recruitment initiatives and work to grow the workforce by targeting education, job placement and job training.

Buchanan said OHS can’t accomplish the plan alone. The agency has been leveraging the expertise of other partners to see what can be done to move the needle and ensure Oklahomans can “age their way.” Now, it’s ready to start accomplishing some of its goals.

“This is a celebration. We now know what we need to do, and now we just got to do the hard work ahead,” Buchanan said. “This is where the rubber meets the road, where the blood, sweat, and tears are going to create a better Oklahoma.”

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Jillian Taylor has been StateImpact Oklahoma's health reporter since August 2023.
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