The Alaska Commission on Aging is meeting in person around the Kenai Peninsula next week.
“Our main focus is really taking a look at issues that impact the lives of seniors in Alaska," said Lisa Morley, the commission’s executive director.
Commissioners and staff will hold “listening sessions” with local seniors and elders to gauge the issues they’re dealing with.
Morley said the Commission on Aging it functions much like an advisory board to the state on senior issues. It meets quarterly.
There’s a lot to discuss. COVID-19 has disproportionately impacted seniors over the last year, and Alaska Native elders at even higher rates.
Joyanna Geisler is the executive director of Independent Living Center, which has locations around the peninsula. She’s giving a presentation at one of the meetings.
“In terms of input from ILC, I think some of the major issues for seniors, as well as people with disabilities, is the isolation and stress that has happened within the last year due to COVID," she said.
Another important conversation, Morley said, is what happens after COVID-19. While many communities are still in the thick of the pandemic, some coronavirus regulations are lifting as more people are getting vaccinated. The Department of Health and Social Services just released guidelines for non-residential congregate settings, like senior centers.
Alaska also has a growing senior population, Morley said, which can put a strain on resources.
“It’s about 20 percent of our total population," she said. "So our assisted living, long-term care services, transportation, housing, have not really kept up with the growth in the senior population because it’s been growing so rapidly.”
That’s something Geisler has seen, too.
“Off the top of my head, I know there’s always a waiting list for a program called Senior In-Home Grants, and that’s to help with some basic services for seniors in their own homes," she said. "And while it’s great that that service is offered in various communities across the peninsula, traditionally there has been a waiting list.”
The commission’s meetings Tuesday and Thursday are closed to the public but there will be several opportunities May 5 for people to share input.
“All of our meetings will be masked and we will be practicing social distancing," Morley said. But we do still want people to come out if they feel safe. The reason we’re having them at the senior centers is so that the senior centers can provide transportation, if necessary.”
The Alaska Commission on Aging is holding in-person meetings at the following places and times Wednesday:
Soldotna Senior Center, 9:30-11 a.m.
Homer Chamber of Commerce, 10:30 a.m.-noon
Niksiki Senior Center, 10-11:30 a.m.
Ninilchik Senior Center, Noon-1 p.m.
Anchor Point Senior Center, 12:30-1:30 p.m.
Ninilchik Tribal Council, 1:30-3:30 p.m.
Kenai Senior Center, 12:30-2 p.m.
Homer United Methodist Church, 2-3 p.m.
Sterling Senior Center, 2:30-4 p.m.