Ward 6 resident Godfrey Francis has taken care of his 102-year-old mother, Lucille, for eight years without seeking help from any District government agency. His mother, an undocumented immigrant from Guyana, moved here after living in New York for several years.
"My siblings and I decided to bring her because she was getting up in age," said Francis, 57, who supplied food, shelter and medical needs on his salary; first, as a District government employee and now, a federal employee. His siblings left him with sole responsibility.
"Caring for a senior parent who's undocumented at a high age, she couldn't get all the services when I did seek them," said Francis, whose mother now receives basic doctor visits and some medications through the District of Columbia Healthcare Alliance, after he contacted the Office of Healthcare Ombudsman for help.
He was forced recently to place his mother into a home in Northeast as she began to show signs of dementia.
When asked about her undocumented status, he said it played a role in why as a caregiver he hadn't sought help from the D.C. Office on Aging or other government agencies that assist the District's more than 98,000 seniors, according to the 2010 U.S. Census for the District of Columbia.
Francis represents one of 65.7 million people in the United States in 2009 who served as an unpaid caregiver, according to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. This person provides assistance for a senior or person with disabilities, limited in their abilities to perform daily activities. Due to a decline among caregivers under 50, there is an increasing trend among caregivers between ages 50 and 64, some of whom also have health care needs.
These were the findings in the report, D.C. Senior Needs Assessment: Initial Data Collection, which Mayor Vincent C. Gray, 69, commissioned from the D.C. Office on Aging [DCOA].
"The needs assessment gives us a roadmap for beginning to meet the current needs of our older residents, identifying service gaps and allowing DCOA to refine its service model," said Gray during a press conference on Oct. 3, at the Washington Senior Wellness Center in Southeast. Besides this report, Gray released a three-year strategic plan on creating an "age-friendly" city, an urban community that is inclusive, accessible and encourages active and healthy living.
DCOA's director, John Thompson said the needs assessment is a "living document."
"The agency will use this to chart the course for shaping long-term services and support systems in the District of Columbia," said Thompson, who added that the last assessment was prepared in 1978. The 269-page report examined wellness, quality of life, safety, socialization, recreation, health, in-home support, meal delivery, employment, assisted living, transportation, Medicaid/Medicare and nutrition. It compared nationwide demographics to the District's.
For two Ward 7 seniors, needs vary.
"I think the most important issue seniors want to know is if they would be able to stay in their homes," said Dorothy Anthony who hasn't yet seen the report. "And what services will be available if I need care." For Doris Thomas, an 80-something-year-old, her needs are transportation-related.
"I seem to be relying on people I know," said Thomas as she left a civic association meeting on Oct. 6 with another senior resident. "The city's transportation system is just awful."
Based on needs such as these, the District will convene a taskforce of agencies and community partners to oversee the execution of the strategic plan with specific goals of making the District age-friendly, which will tie into Gray's One City Action Plan that brings together "the concrete goals, strategies and action steps my administration is working on to make this vision of One City a reality," Gray said.
The District joins seven other states as a pilot for the AARP Network of Age-Friendly Communities through the World Health Organization Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities.
Francis said he hopes the report will address areas of deficiency.
"I look forward to any changes as I'm approaching 60," he said.