• 45°

Norwood seniors cite study for expanded services

A feasibility study suggests when the county decides to expand its senior services the town of Norwood warrants as much consideration as Locust.

A study conducted by Centralina Council of Government (CCOG) and at the request of county commissioners yielded results that could impact how Stanly County Senior Services are expanded and where future satellite locations might be located. CCOG’s Senior Center Service Analysis Report reveals the county has an aging population set to continue. Consequently, the needs for seniors is likely to increase, too.

“There were really no surprises in the findings,” said Becky Weemhoff, director of  Stanly County Senior Service. “Based on the demographics of the senior population in the county we knew that the western and the southern part of the county had a significant number of seniors to the total population.”

For the past few years seniors in Locust have been appealing to county leaders about funding a senior center in the town to serve western Stanly. Those pleas were based on a strong senior population for a town not in proximity to the Senior Center in Albemarle.

County commissioners previously halted funding for a western senior center in Locust, pending the results of a feasibility study. Prior to then the county provided a stipend to complement funding for a facility in Locust until questions arose about overall fairness to other municipalities and all county taxpayers.

County leaders next commissioned CCOG to conduct an independent study aimed at assessing where senior services were most needed. The study concluded in the spring.

“Whether it’s with increased funding or with a satellite, I appreciate the commissioners conducting long range planning with this study to determine how the county will meet the needs of its seniors in the future,” Weemhoff said.

The study identified both Locust and Norwood as recommended locations for the expansion of senior services.

News that Norwood figures prominently in the study’s findings have stakeholders there calling for a fair review when county commissioners decide how to spread a $50,000 appropriation in the 2018-19 budget.

“Allocating $50,000 on a satellite Senior Center in the Locust area, while ignoring the greater demonstrated surveyed needs of the Norwood area should be viewed with concern, not reflective of sound fiscal or political policy; lacking in substance and not supported by the published facts available,” Norwood stakeholders wrote in an open letter to commissioners.

It was later submitted as a letter to the editor to The Stanly News & Press with the following names below: Linda Layton, Ann Lowder, Don Morrison, Dwight Smith, former mayor and town administrator of Norwood as well as county commissioner, and Concerned Norwood Citizens.

CCOG’s study identified Norwood as part of the county’s high growth area.

One of two open house events were held in Norwood and Locust amid efforts to gauge interest for expanded senior services. While the event in Locust was more heavily attended, Norwood seniors were much more responsive to the study’s survey.

There were 423 respondents to the survey with more than 42 percent hailing from Norwood. Albemarle, at 23.3 percent, was second, followed by Locust at 16.5 percent.

Roughly 94 percent of the respondents knew about the Senior Center, with 67 percent of them familiar with its services.

For CCOG to determine where additional senior services are warranted in Stanly, it examined a three-tier criteria related to level of service: proximity to senior population, accessibility by senior population and services available to seniors.

Data shows the rate of senior population growth as high in Locust while its senior population density is deemed as moderate. Seniors living below the poverty level rank low in Locust. At 15.7 miles, Locust was identified as second to Stanfield in distance from the Senior Center in Albemarle.

“The area surrounding the community of Locust is one of the fastest growing and highest concentration of senior adults. A facility in this general location could potentially serve other communities nearby that are within the 5-mile driving distance including: Oakboro, Red Cross, and Stanfield,” the study noted.

As for Norwood, the town ranked as moderate in all three categories (senior population growth, senior population density and senior poverty level). Oakboro fared as moderate in all three as well. Norwood lies 11.6 miles from the Senior Center, compared to Oakboro’s 13.7.

“The area surrounding the community of Norwood is fast growing and has a higher concentration of senior adults. A facility in this general location would mostly provide services to senior adults living in this area,” the study stated.

Senior population density can be a moving target, opposed to a fixed site. In 2010, the highest densities of senior population (65 and older per acre) were located in the northeast, southwest and southeast areas of the county, including Albemarle, Locust, Norwood, Badin, Red Cross and Oakboro.

During the preceding decade, the northwest, northeast and southwest areas of the county experienced the most significant increase in senior populations. It included more than a 15 percent increase in those areas as well as Misenheimer, Richfield, Badin, Locust and Red Cross.

The central part of the county, like Albemarle and the surrounding area, experienced a decrease in senior population during that same 10-year period.

A senior’s proximity to a facility appears to be a factor whether they will frequent the site. In an effort to measure accessibility, CCOG analyzed poverty level, mobility and public transportation options.

“Based on survey responses, distance is a deterrent,” the analysis stated. “Over 53 percent of survey participants reported that they don’t use the Senior Center, and the primary factor stated, over 76 percent, was that the senior center is too far away from them.”

Conversely, 68 percent of the respondents said they would use a senior center if it was closer. Nearly 50 percent of them said they would be willing to drive 5 miles, while 30 percent stated they would travel up to 10 miles to a senior facility.

Weemhoff said she was not surprised by the travel habits of seniors.

“Many seniors have limited vision and mobility problems that make it uncomfortable and unsafe for them to drive,” she said. “If a satellite is established, I am confident that we will solicit the help of SCUSA to help in the transportation for those seniors who no longer drive.”

No decisions about the expansion of senior services have been made.

“It is my goal to make a programming recommendation to the board (commissioners) at their Sept. 4 meeting,” said County Manager Andy Lucas.

Contact Ritchie Starnes at 704-754-5076 or ritchie.starnes@stanlynewspress.com.