Under new leadership and with the June primary just weeks away, Missoula Aging Services took to its mission and need for a funding increase to the City Council on Wednesday.
The organization, founded in Missoula in 1984, is working through a number of challenges ranging from staffing shortages to a quickly aging demographic. It’s also operating at a funding level that hasn’t increased in years.
The organization is seeking a levy increase during the June 7 primary election.
“Our greater needs and costs are outpacing our revenue,” said Lisa Sheppard, the organization’s new executive director. “Covid accelerated a change in need that was already happening because of this demographic change. Those needs are not abating.”
By 2034, the U.S. will have more people over the age of 65 than those under 18 – a demographic swing that’s never happened before in American history, Sheppard said.
The fastest group of aging adults are those aged 85 and up.
“We’re all moving in that aging direction,” said Sheppard. “And Montana is aging faster than the rest of the country. We’re currently sixth in the nation. By 2030, a fifth of Montana will be 65 and up.”
Despite the presence of the University of Montana, Missoula won’t defy the aging odds. Already over the past decade, the city’s older population group by 40%, or four times the rate of overall population growth.
“It paints a different picture of our community that we might be used to,” said Sheppard. “It underscores the need for us to plan for a healthy and inclusive future that includes people of all ages.”
While the number of older adults is growing, so too are the services offered by Missoula Aging Services and the cost of providing them.
Among its many programs, the agency pays thousands of visits to local nursing homes each year. It serves as a lifeline to older adults looking to find affordable caregiving services.
The organization’s Memory Care Support Services program also assists people with Alzheimer’s and dementia, enabling them to live at home for as long as possible. The program also offers help to family caregivers.
The Meals on Wheels Program – a vital source of nutrition for thousands of seniors – has seen demand grow by 66% in recent years. The program delivered nearly 140,000 meals last year alone.
“It was incredibly eye opening and at the same time heart warming to see the connection the drivers have with the people they serve,” said council member Stacie Anderson, who recently completed a ride-a-long with the program.
Voters approved a flat 2-mill rate of $350,000 in 2007 to fund Missoula Aging Services. However, it provided no mechanism for inflation or boost to cover a demand in services.
Missoula County commissioners agreed to place on the ballot a vote that would repeal the old mills and replace them with 4 mills. Doing so would amount to around $16.20 on a home valued at $500,000, or around $1.54 each month, the organization has said.
“It’s a huge service provider in Missoula that is just so crucial,” said council member Gwen Jones. “We have a significantly expanding senior population and these issues, planning and foresight is so important so things go well.”