Nearly a quarter of the state’s residents are seniors, and that number is only going to grow in the coming years.
New Mexico is planning for that growth. On Wednesday, the state Aging and Long-Term Services Department released a preliminary draft of a broad and ambitious four-year plan to serve the needs of its seniors.
“Our senior population is seeing a steady rise,” said Katrina Hotrum-Lopez, who heads the agency charged with overseeing the state’s senior services.
“By 2030, our Land of Enchantment is expected to have the fourth-largest senior population ... per capita in the nation,” she said.
The department unveiled the plan during a virtual forum aimed at eliciting public comment on the 72-page document.
Though only a few people weighed in with comments and questions during the event, it gave Denise King, director of the department’s aging network division, a chance to touch on some of the plan’s main points.
The document lays out a number of goals, strategies and measures to pursue between October 2021 and September 2024 related to safety, health, nutrition, transportation and isolation.
Some of those initiatives include finding ways to provide more transportation options to seniors living in rural communities, expanding and fine-tuning food delivery services to seniors and meeting with senior care providers at least once a year to discuss services and how to improve them.
On the nutrition issue, one of the plan’s strategies involves training and offering ongoing technical assistance on national best practices in menu planning, meal pattern requirements and consumer choice to offer varied and healthy meal options to seniors.
Regarding caregivers, one of the plan’s goals is to collect data on the number of caregivers looking over adults older than 60 or those with dementia and the number of grandparents raising grandchildren. Developing a Caregiver Resource Center is another goal.
The plan also calls for recruiting volunteers to help with peer-to-peer presentations on Medicaid and Medicare.
Though the coronavirus pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the state’s seniors in congregate care centers — with 4,278 cases and 1,012 deaths of elderly patients as of Wednesday — the plan only touches on the health crisis.
One of the plan’s suggestions is to improve “emergency preparedness plan and practices to reflect lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The plan cites a University of New Mexico survey of seniors that reports 70 percent of respondents said the pandemic had an “extreme negative impact” on their lives, including the impact of being socially isolated.
In a brief interview before Wednesday’s presentation, Hotrum-Lopez said it is challenging “to prepare for a pandemic that we don’t know about” in advance.
King said improved emergency plans will allow the state to react with a “quick close down” of senior congregate care facilities and leverage existing federal dollars to provide necessary services to seniors during future health emergencies.
The proposed plan will give providers more leeway in saying how they want those federal dollars targeted in a crisis, she said.
For now, the plan is in draft form and public input is vital to finalizing it, Hotrum-Lopez said. “It’s absolutely vital that we hear back from our bosses and key stakeholders — all of you, the taxpayers, throughout this process,” she said.
She said public input will be taken into account as the plan is finalized by June 30, the deadline to submit it to Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s office for approval.
The public has until May 19 to weigh in on the plan. The department plans a second virtual public input session at 9 a.m. Friday.