Summit’s senior growth brings housing and service needs

Kathryn Corazzelli
Summit Daily News
Summit Daily/Mark Fox

Summit County’s senior population boom – and the big needs it brings along with it – is an issue not highlighted enough in the community, according to those close to the subject.

Summit led the state in growth of people aged 65 and older from 2000 to 2010 – at a rate of 180 percent – and is projected to grow another 138 percent by 2020, according to projections from the State Demography Office.

And while there are resources in the Summit County Community and Senior Center, there isn’t anything beyond it in terms of services like assisted living or nursing homes – something that could potentially drive people, and income, away.

“We don’t want to lose these people in the community, but on another level, there’s an economic loss,” said Linda Venturoni, who heads up Venturoni Surveys and Research, which studied the population and its needs. Venturoni also works part-time for Augustana Care, a nonprofit from Minnesota that develops and operates senior care centers. The organization is currently working with Eagle County to create a senior care campus, and is looking at a plan for Summit.

Curious about what the economic impact seniors who leave the community have, Venturoni contacted Colorado State University, which conducted a study just last month. Assuming that 15 percent of Summit’s population wants to stay but has to leave because needed care is not available, the loss is estimated at $28 million a year.

“We were kind of surprised at how large it was,” Venturoni said.

The CSU study assumed some will leave because they want to be closer to family, or just become tired of the cold. But for those who want to stay but can’t, their incomes – derived from external sources like pension funds and annuities – won’t be spent locally on things like goods and services.

According to a 2009 study Venturoni conducted, 75 percent of Summit residents 65 and older would like to continue their retirement years in the county, she said.

Andy Searls is the chairperson of the Summit County Senior Housing Task Force, and works with Mountain Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to those in need. Just in the past few days, two people have had to leave because they can’t get the care they need, she said. One, who should have been in an assisted living facility years ago, was found unable to move in his home by a Meals on Wheels volunteer.

“This is really a serious issue,” she said. “There was no place for them to go.”

Summit is the only county out of the seven or eight she’s visited with the task force “that doesn’t have anything for seniors besides our senior center,” she said. “We should build on that.”

Building on what’s already there – through services like Mountain Mobility – would not only help keep that 15 percent in Summit, but increase the number of jobs available in the community, Searls said.

“It would increase services that we don’t have now, that we need,” she said.

“The demographic wave of seniors in the mountain resort communities is undeniably headed our way,” said Summit County Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. “The wave includes both baby boomers aging in place and retirees seeking our mountain lifestyle and environmental amenities. How we respond as a community will determine how this wave will impact our communities.”

Members of the senior housing task force hope the response will be a senior care campus, which they want to consist of three phases, developed over 20 years: first, 28 units of affordable housing meant for independent living; second, 32 units for assisted living, independent and memory care; and finally, 45 with skilled nursing, assisted living and memory care.

The campus will serve residents of all economic levels – Medicaid, Medicare, private insurance and private pay will all be accepted. It is expected all units in the first phase will be rentals. That first batch of units could be funded through a low income housing tax credit program, and would be “a good start,” Searls said.

But, a location is still up in the air. The task force is exploring a few options around the various towns and the county, including right near the existing senior center. The county has done a preliminary look at that campus, Stiegelmeier said, but has to take a more serious look at the land, and what the service needs will be beyond 20 years.

Another roadblock: a lack of extra money, and not knowing when more will come in.

“We have work to do to figure out what we can do as a community to figure out what we can do to be ready for this wave of baby boomers,” Stiegelmeier said.

The task force hopes to identify a portion of land and have an application in for the housing units before March 1 of next year, according to Venturoni.

But despite the growing needs, Summit is lucky to have its existing senior population, which fulfills a large portion of the community’s volunteer slots, Stiegelmeier said.

“I think we will continue to attract those active seniors,” she said.

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Summit Daily is embarking on a multiyear project to digitize its archives going back to 1989 and make them available to the public in partnership with the Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection. The full project is expected to cost about $165,000. All donations made in 2023 will go directly toward this project.

Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.