County News

Advocate for the aging gives voice to older adults

Henrico County’s Advocate for the Aging Sara Morris provides care coordination, outreach efforts and educational events for the aging community in Henrico County, Va. Photo courtesy Henrico County

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Sara Morris, Henrico County’s Advocate for the Aging, said her position focuses on three areas: Care coordination, outreach efforts and educational events

For older adults in Henrico County, Va., it only takes one phone call to the county’s advocate for the aging to access a “one-stop shop” of services and resources to help meet their needs.

The number of citizens 65 years and older in Henrico County is projected to increase 61 percent from the year 2000 to 2020. With the anticipated change in demographics, the county surveyed citizens in 2014 to identify the needs of older adults. The survey found many individuals were unaware of the services the county provided for the aging population.

Henrico County formed a task force on aging and recommended to the board of supervisors the creation of an Advocate for the Aging position to be the voice for older adults and serve as a liaison between county departments, according to Paula Reid, director of Human Services at Henrico County.

Sara Morris, Henrico County’s current Advocate for the Aging, said her position focuses on three areas: Care coordination, outreach efforts and educational events.

She works with county residents 65 years and older, their families and caregivers to help navigate county resources and connect them to helpful resources within the community.

Morris said the top three phone calls she receives relate to housing issues, affordable in-home care and assistance with exterior home maintenance.

“I think the neat thing about this position is it’s a one-stop shop,” she said. “People don’t have to go through being transferred from department to department and maybe not finding out about something that could be useful.”

Reid said the advocate for the aging position does not establish new services, but instead works to educate older adults on services the county already provides to find programs that meet their needs. 

As the advocate for the aging, Morris said she finds out about community organizations and partner agencies to share those resources with others. She holds focus groups twice per year to listen to members of the community and tailor programming to county residents. 

Reid said the county worked to inform residents about the position through town hall meetings, the county’s public relations department, a website, a newsletter and through posts on social media.

“We really tried to make the position known through a variety of different formal communication ways as well as that grassroots effort,” Reid said.

Morris and Reid both agreed that a key factor to establishing the advocate for the aging position involved pulling together services and resources the county already provided to meet the needs of older adults.

“I think it adds a lot of value to have one person that’s focused on the aging community because it helps the county as we’re thinking strategically,” Reid said.

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