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St. Pete surveys residents 45-plus to gauge seniors' needs, wants

Millie Reynolds, 71, volunteers five days a week at the Sunshine Senior Center. On Fridays, she puts on a country music show. 

LARA CERRI | Times

Millie Reynolds, 71, volunteers five days a week at the Sunshine Senior Center. On Fridays, she puts on a country music show. 

ST. PETERSBURG — Ask Millie Reynolds what older residents of the city need and she'll tell you: day care facilities that offer respite for caregivers; safe, hassle-free bus service; opportunities to socialize.

Reynolds is 71. She hears it all at the Sunshine Senior Center, where she's an enthusiastic volunteer.

"My husband passed away last year,'' she said. "I would come down here and volunteer five days a week. It kept me so busy that I didn't have time to dwell on anything.''

"I do the snack bar. I do the music. I do bingo and I also do a country music show on Friday afternoon.''

With the nation's oldest baby boomers turning 65 this year and centenarians no longer a novelty, the city's Office on Aging, which runs the Sunshine Senior Center, and the Commission on Aging are more interested than ever in learning how to better meet the needs of older residents like Reynolds.

Answers are expected in the final report of an eight-page questionnaire mailed to a sampling of St. Petersburg residents 45 and older about topics such as health care, living wills, housing and transportation. While the final findings have yet to be released, discussions among focus groups have yielded a few nuggets.

"People had a lot to say. I didn't have to do a lot of prompting and they were very thoughtful," said Jennifer Salmon of the Aging Research Group, which conducted the survey.

Some participants said they did not know who would care for them, but explained that was because they didn't want to rely on adult children, she said. Some of these independent-minded folks either lived in downtown apartments, were hoping to downsize from single-family homes, or had moved to life care communities offering socialization, transportation, meals and housekeeping.

Transportation was a concern. Though many in the focus groups thought they would use public transportation when they could no longer drive, they expressed concern about bus transfer stations and traveling safely at night.

The survey, "Planning for an Aging Society," was conducted in March, April and May, with questionnaires mailed to residents in each of the city's eight council districts. There were 2,669 responses. Deb Close, chairwoman of the Commission on Aging, was pleased with the high participation.

"It was a long survey to fill out and it was very complex,'' said Close, who also is interim director of mission for Bon Secours St. Petersburg, a nonprofit, long-term care health system.

"I think we're going to have good data, and I'm really looking forward to Dr. Salmon's recommendations when she finalizes her analysis,'' Close said. "Prior to this survey, there has been no data collected that has been from St. Petersburg residents. There is larger data for the state and the county, but this allows us to drill down to neighborhood needs.''

The plan is to use the feedback in applications for continued accreditation of the Sunshine Senior Center — the first center of its kind to be nationally accredited in Florida — and when applying for grants and improving services and programs for the city's older residents and their caregivers.

"I think if we can help the 45-plus baby boomer generation now meaningfully plan and participate in their parents' aging, we're educating them as they plan for the process themselves,'' Close said.

Reynolds, who did not receive a questionnaire, speaks from experience about the need for senior day care. She regularly took her ailing husband to the Sunshine Center.

"All he would do was sit here all day. There wasn't really anything for him to do. If we had a day care, a lot more people would come back'' to the center at 330 Fifth St. N, she said.

Reynolds, who moved to St. Petersburg from Kentucky when she was in her 30s and is on the board of Friends of the Sunshine Center, has heard contemporaries discuss public bus service and their concerns about safety.

"Sometimes it's a bad neighborhood they have to transfer in,'' she said. "A friend transfers four times before he could get a bus to the VA. Thank goodness I drive.''

The city contributed $5,000 to the $35,000 survey from an Office of Aging trust fund, along with in-kind contributions. The rest of the cost was covered by a grant from the Bon Secours Health System Mission Fund. Close explained the commitment. "Because of our mission and expertise as providers of senior services, it makes it a natural fit for us to be involved with the community in planning for aging,'' she said.

"There's often a disconnect between a community and its aging needs,'' she said. "People don't want to think about getting older and frailer, and there's a wide spectrum of needs for people as they age. Too often, people wait until there's a crisis to determine the services and types of care they might want."

Jay Morgan, manager of the Office on Aging, mentioned a key reason for urgency. As of today, he noted, 2.7 million baby boomers in the United States will have turned 65, an estimated 165,000 in Florida.

"It's going to be a major impact on our state, our country, our city," he said.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this article. Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

BY THE NUMBERS

110,914

St. Petersburg residents 45 and older

38,319

St. Petersburg residents 65 and older

244,769

overall

St. Petersburg population

10,000 number of Americans who will turn 65 every day for the next 19 years

Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2010; Pew Research Center

St. Pete surveys residents 45-plus to gauge seniors' needs, wants 10/01/11 [Last modified: Saturday, October 1, 2011 5:30am]
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