Friday, February 10, 2012

Aging and dying on our own terms

In 1967 the Beatles sang, "When I get older, losing my hair, many years from now, will you still be sending me a valentine, birthday greetings, bottle of wine?"

Then came the chorus, "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?"

If the Board of County Commissioners puts a nearly $1 million annual tax subsidy for the Blaine Manor nursing home on the ballot for renewal, Sun Valley-area residents will have to answer that question for the second time. And, they may have to decide if the subsidy should be made permanent.

When the subsidy was first put to voters in 2010, the commissioners expected that a new, nonprofit multi-level elder-care facility would be operating by now.

Then the nation's economic crash brought tax-deductible giving to a near standstill. As a result, the quest of the local Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation to build a multi-level retirement and care facility near Hailey was slowed as well.

The question before the Sun Valley area is about more than money. It's whether area communities are real towns or just long-term vacation spots where visitors have overstayed their welcome.

When baby boomers started rolling into the small Sun Valley resort area in a big way in the late 1960s and '70s, older adults assumed that they would "get it out of their systems" and then return to "real towns" and find "real jobs." Instead, the boomers stayed and defied expectations as they carved out work and family lives invigorated by the outdoor opportunities they found just outside their own doors.

Towns grew. People raised families, started businesses, created jobs, built schools and public facilities and helped combine competing hospitals. Their energy and enthusiasm were contagious. But can they do the same for aging?

Can people get old and die here—or has it become just too expensive? Must we ship out people in need of skilled nursing care to bigger cities in the flatlands where economies of scale and cheaper work forces make elder care affordable? Must age and infirmity become a one-way ticket out of our mountain towns into solitary confinement among strangers?

People who've lived with inspiring mountain views could find themselves spending their last days staring at freeways unless we make a concerted effort to fix the problem.

Residents of mountain towns have a reputation for not taking "no" for an answer and for coming up with creative approaches to difficult problems.

As mountain people, we have a chance to figure out how to age and die here and to do it the same way we've lived—on our own terms.

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