Center 50+ cafe coordinator Judy Pack portions out meals for center staff members while volunteers pick up their daily deliveries in the background. Tuesday, April 14. (Amanda Loman/Salem Reporter)

A recent analysis indicates that Salem is doing well in accommodating the needs of its aging population.

Center 50+, the city-run senior operation, hosted listening sessions and forums that encouraged older residents to share how the city’s housing, transportation, accessibility, and other support resources impact their aging.

The conclusions reveal that Salem is "a great place to live and age," said Mayor Chuck Bennett in his letter of introduction to the report.

Study participants “consistently noted connections to the community were the most significant thing they love about living in Salem,” including its wide variety of educational, cultural, and social events.

Marilyn Daily-Blairexecutive director of Center 50+, and AARP Oregon launched the study in 2017, using the parameters set out by the World Health Organization's “Age-friendly Communities' and AARP's 'Livable Communities' initiatives.

The city’s assessment analyzed physical, mental, and emotional health of people over 60 years and their link to housing, transportation, mobility, accessibility, health services, safety, social connectedness, employment and volunteerism.

Daily-Blair noted that, as a smaller agency, Center 50+ elected to address the needs arising from a narrower range of concerns rather than tackling all eight areas.

"Larger agencies are better suited to managing those bigger strategies," she said. Instead, Center 50+ intends to address more immediate needs through its daily programs and community outreach efforts.

Using the findings, Salem officials can better serve the constantly evolving needs of a population that continues to grow. Currently, approximately 20% of Salem residents are over 60 years, and that is expected to grow to 23% by 2030.

The local assessment was very helpful, said Daily-Blair, and gave clarity to those areas where Center 50+ and its partners could provide the most benefit.

For example, transportation is a top concern, and she is pleased that Salem ranked relatively high on that index due in part to Cherriots' Dial-a-Ride, Shopper Shuttle, and LIFT services, although Dial-a-Ride and Shopper Shuttle are currently suspended due to COVID.

The assessment will guide Salem's larger senior support network, comprised of more than 40 nonprofits, faith communities, neighborhood representatives, and agencies. Their long-term goal is to develop resources that support healthy, autonomous lifestyles well into the retirement years.

Remarkably, the pandemic helped the center realize one of its long-term goals by requiring a new method of service delivery after the pandemic shuttered its building in March 2020. Community sponsors provided the resources to develop the first Wellness on Wheels mobile senior center that now takes Center 50+ resources to people in the community who need them the most.

Daily-Blair said the assessment is a fluid document that can change to meet needs as they arise. The pandemic delayed development of the Center’s Age-friendly Community Action Plan, which will resume as that challenge subsides.

For more information, contact Daily-Blair at 503-588-6303 or [email protected] 

Pam Sornson is a freelance writer based in Salem. Contact her at [email protected]

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