Hawaii's Seniors in Crisis

Hawaii's Seniors in Crisis: Part 3
Wes Lum
Wes Lum
Stella Wong
Stella Wong

Hawaii is "graying" faster than any other state in nation. Along with our aging population, we also have one of the highest costs of living. This week, Hawaii News Now, in conjunction with the Aloha United Way, presents "Seniors in Crisis" - an in-depth look at some of the serious issues confronting our kupuna.

We all face big challenges, but for seniors, issues like affordable housing, hot meals, healthcare, financial scams - even little things, like bathing and chores - can be burdensome. If seniors are not prepared, those challenges grow, exponentially, as the years go by.

One out of every five Hawaii residents is over age 60. In just a decade (2000-2010 U.S. census), our population, from 60 to 84, jumped almost a third, and those living past age 85 rose more than 72%. Our seniors have a unique set of needs that are both complex and wide-ranging.

"I think there's handwriting on the walls for a crisis, if we don't address the problems now," says Wes Lum, director of the state's Executive Office on Aging. "I mean, there's a sense of urgency, right now, to take action."

Here's why: Hawaii's high cost of living can send many seniors to the brink of poverty, especially when addressing long-term healthcare and housing.

"As the rent goes up, they're pushed out of the market, 'cause their income's fixed," explains Stella Wong of Catholic Charities. "They have no way of earning more income. And what we're finding is: their children can't help them anymore because they're losing their jobs."

Even for those who do plan ahead, long-term care costs can be mind boggling. According to Genworth Financial, a private room at a nursing home in Hawaii runs an average $123,000 annually. An assisted-living, retirement home here costs $45,000 a year. Many of our seniors and their families will never be able to afford that, and outreach groups see the problems multiplying.

Wong continues, "Making sure they have enough food, have enough money for their drugs, that's the hard part. You know, some months, they have to make a decision. Do I pay my rent or do I get my prescription drugs? Or do I eat?"

The Aloha United Way has a one-stop shop for seniors and caregivers for help and referrals. AUW can connect you to any one of 4,000 agencies. It's very easy - just call 2-1-1.

Also, here's how you can help our seniors. To donate just $10, please text 2-7-7-2-2 and put AUW in the subject line. You're invited to text multiple times - to give as much as you can.

Copyright 2012 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.