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Creating Aging Equity in Marin

Creating Aging Equity in MarinPosted on 6/15/17 by Whistlestop

May was Older Americans Month, and the theme for this year was “Age Out Loud”. It’s less a slogan than a rallying cry for older adults to have more of a voice in this community: You do not have to be silent as you grow older; your voice can always be heard.

Whistlestop envisions a connected community where older adults are celebrated and nurtured, and where all people have equitable access to whatever resources, connections and services they need in order to age with dignity, independence and grace. I call this Aging Equity, and it’s my personal belief that we all share in the responsibility to make this vision a reality.

As a father and grandfather, I have watched and applauded the success of the educational equity movement in our county. Nonprofits, grassroots organizations, and schools have come together to form “Cradle to Career” partnerships to ensure that all children, no matter their challenge, have equal and fair access to a public education.

I’d like to propose that it’s time to mirror the huge success of our educational equity efforts focused on our county’s younger population, and apply the same energy to an Aging Equity effort focused on our older adults. What many folks don’t realize is that older adults in Marin actually outnumber our children. In 2000, Marin had 11,000 more children and youth (ages 0-17) than people over 62, and by 2015, older adults outnumbered children and youth by 7,000. That number will continue to grow. It’s time to give our older residents a voice and get behind a county-wide “Retirement to Rest” initiative that mirrors our exemplary work in educational equity.

What are some of the resources, connections and services older adults might need as we strive for Aging Equity? Some might not have access to proper nutrition; others might need housing, and still others might need their options translated into their native language. Some older adults might have a home, but perhaps they have no nearby family and are isolated and prone to depression, while others need transportation to and from not only medical appointments but also to social engagements and the grocery store. Still others may have the physical things they need such as housing and food, but lack a purpose and need to find belonging. And those suffering from dementia or end of life challenges have another unique set of needs. No one organization can fully address the multitude of challenges that might cause inequity in access to the services and resources our neighbors need in order to age with dignity, independence and grace. We must band together.

The great news: we already have an initiative here in Marin dedicated to Aging Equity. I am honored to serve as Chair of the Marin County Aging Action Initiative (AAI), whose vision is to cultivate a county-wide, age-friendly environment, especially for those in need. Thanks to funding from the Marin County Board of Supervisors and support from the Aging and Adult Services division of Health and Human Services, AAI has grown to become a collaborative, collective effort of over 65 different agencies, grassroots organizations, commissions and neighborhood groups, working together toward its vision through education, advocacy and coordinated services.

Older adults are a treasure for this community. Aging Out Loud means celebrating the memories, experiences and contributions of Marin’s older adult population every day. Together, let’s ensure that every Marin resident has the connections, resources and services they need as they grow older. It’s the right and equitable thing to do.

Joe O’Hehir is CEO of Whistlestop and Chair of Marin’s Active Aging Initiative.

This piece originally appeared in the Marin Independent Journal’s Marin Voice section on 5/29/17

County Proclaims 2018 Year of the Older Adult

County Proclaims 2018 Year of the Older AdultBy John Bowman

An idea from a Marin County resident has bloomed into a year-long celebration of older adults in Marin. County Supervisors Kate Sears and Dennis Rodoni took the idea to their fellow supervisors and received unanimous support for a resolution proclaiming “2018 The Year of the Older Adult” in Marin County.

The resolution states in part: “Whereas the author and feminist leader Betty Friedan taught us, ‘Aging is not lost youth but a new stage of opportunity and strength.’”

District 4 Supervisor Rodoni said, “The idea came from one of my constituents. She had been impressed with the models in similar counties and thought it would be wonderful if Marin could develop its own models. The older adult community has always been a priority of mine and this initiative is a great nexus to the other projects I am working on that will benefit the older adult community.”

Third District Supervisor Sears added, “This is a celebration of older adults who make Marin such a wonderful place to age, learn and live. It also is a call to action to identify the concerns and challenges that aging may bring so that we can better tailor services and effectively communicate their availability to those who may not know we’re here for them.

“It also amplifies the important work of the Aging Action Initiative (AAI), a countywide collaborative including the 125 service providers and County of Marin, that was launched by the Board of Supervisors in 2014. I am particularly thankful for the great leadership, energy and experience that Whistlestop CEO Joe O’Hehir has brought to the AAI. In 2018, the AAI highlights four issues important to residents of Marin County: housing, aging in community, economic security, and transportation.”

Both Supervisors praised the work that Whistlestop does for older adults. Sears said, “I have had the chance to talk frequently with CEO O’Hehir to learn about the changes in Whistlestop’s programs and services. Joe is passionate about his day-to-day work with older adults and takes great pride in the wonderful staff at Whistlestop who work hard to bring quality programs and kindness into everything they do. Whistlestop touches the lives of so many of our residents in the wide variety of programming and services it offers. With its central location in San Rafael, Whistlestop is an important community partner with Marin County’s Department of Aging and Adult Services, and a model for how to engage with the growing population of older adults.”

Rodoni added, “I continue to be impressed with the robust programming that Whistlestop offers. Our older adult community depends on Whistlestop for food, transportation and all of the services necessary to be healthy and contributing members of our community. Many of my constituents have shared personal stories on how Whistlestop is making their aging better. I must also commend the staff and leadership.”

Sears said that as an older adult herself, “I’m excited about the calendar of events we’re creating to celebrate the Year of the Older Adult.” She said she hopes people will check out the activities and attend as many as they can.

Rodoni, too, expressed enthusiasm about the events planned. “So far, each month consists of a topic that will inform our entire community of issues related to older adults. It is important to note that we are working thoughtfully to make this an intergenerational effort and appeal to all ages.”

Marin Voice: Creating a new model of care for older adults in Marin

Marin Voice: Creating a new model of care for older adults in MarinBy 2030, it is estimated that more than one in every three Marin residents will be 65 or older. And, the fastest-growing sector of the population will be over the age of 85.  Meeting the needs of this growing demographic will require a variety of improvements in housing, health care, nutrition, and transportation, as well as new models for providing vital services such as social connection, resource referrals, and engagement.

There is no debate about the desperate shortage of affordable housing and other services for older adults in Marin, and as the aging population continues to grow, these challenges will only become more pronounced. It is time for a community-based solution to this growing community crisis.

Whistlestop’s proposed solution is the new Healthy Aging Campus, a modern health hub for Marin’s older adults that will support the social and medical needs of older adults and provide affordable homes, accessible transportation and a myriad of vibrant programs designed to improve human connectedness in a central, community-based location. The social and medical services provided at this campus will be available to all of Marin’s older adults; not just those who live onsite.

The recent report, Older Adult Housing in Marin: Planning for 2030, estimates that approximately 7,000 older residents in Marin currently need affordable housing. Whistlestop is addressing this critical need by partnering with local nonprofit Eden Housing to develop 67 housing units that are 100% affordable and exclusively for older residents. This affordable housing project will be the first of its kind in Marin County and will feature community rooms, a computer center and library, and landscaped courtyards with gardens. The campus will also be San Rafael’s first car-free community, as services and amenities will be walkable, and transportation will be provided by Whistlestop for its residents and members.

There is growing recognition that non-medical services for older adults are as important for overall health as those received in a medical provider’s office. Whistlestop is addressing these “social determinants of health” by partnering with local health care payers and providers in creating a “modern health hub” and integrated care clinic at our new campus. Providing wraparound health care services will allow Whistlestop to more effectively address specific needs and will improve health outcomes for older adults in Marin County.

Social isolation is an epidemic sweeping our country. What many do not realize is that this is a medical epidemic. According to a study by researchers at the AARP Public Policy Institute and at Stanford and Harvard universities, the impacts of people living in social isolation add almost $7 billion a year to the cost of Medicare, mostly because of longer hospital stays — a result, researchers hypothesize, of not having community support at home. Those who are isolated are at an increased risk of depression, cognitive decline and dementia, among other health conditions. The new Whistlestop campus will be a welcoming, central hub for residents and members where they can share meals, attend classes and engage in conversations and activities with contemporaries.

The Healthy Aging Campus will also contribute to community vitality by moving isolated older residents out of their homes and into a supportive environment and integrating older residents into the thriving downtown San Rafael area. The project will contribute to the economic development, sustainability and vitality of downtown San Rafael.

At Whistlestop, we envision a connected community where older adults are celebrated and nurtured, and where all people have equitable access to whatever resources, connections and services they need in order to thrive. We call this “aging equity,” and we believe that we all share in the responsibility to make this vision a reality.

The San Rafael Planning Commission will review the merits of this project at a public meeting on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

To learn more about Whistlestop’s Healthy Aging Campus or to view a short film that captures Whistlestop’s vison, visit

Joe O’Hehir is CEO of Whistlestop, a San Rafael-based nonprofit that promotes the independence, well-being and quality of life for older adults and people living with disabilities in Marin County.