By the year 2020, one in four Arizonans is expected to be older than 60. With that in mind, Gov. Janet Napolitano has opened a state Office of Aging to coordinate the efforts of various agencies dealing with issues facing the state’s fastgrowing population of seniors.
“Aging Arizonans have the right to live independently and with dignity, and we want to help them do that,” said Melanie Starns, tapped by Napolitano to direct the office.
Until now, the governor’s office had relied on an advisory council to understand the state’s demographics.
“As we look forward, we have to take a proactive approach,” Starns said.
“Retired people aren’t just going to go play golf,” she said. “Older adults want to be utilized and be a voice in society.”
The four-person office already is working on ways to protect seniors from identity theft and to ensure access to dental care, Starns said.
Its chief role is coordinating the work of 14 state agencies that deal with various issues facing the elderly.
That’s welcome news to Mary Beals-Luedtka, director of the Northern Arizona Council of Governments’ Area Agency on Aging.
“We very much support it, because it raises awareness about the aging population,” Beals-Luedtka said.
One important issue is maintaining funding for senior programs that service the spread-out elderly population in rural areas of the state, Beals-Luedtka said.
“A lot of these people need face-to-face interaction, which means traveling around is a big deal,” she said. “That’s why it’s really important that the office continues to recognize rural areas.”
Her agency and others like it will alert the governor’s office to issues to help develop policy, Beals-Luedtka said.
Marion Bowling, 71, who moved to Phoenix from Ohio, said Arizona is already ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing with seniors.
“I came from a place that wasn’t as sophisticated in senior care,” she said recently during lunch at Devonshire Senior Center in Phoenix. “Personally, I think Arizona is a fantastic place.”