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EDITORIAL: Monitor investment in seniors' mental health care

Marin Independent Journal - 9/19/2018

Sept. 19--Spending $1.6 million on an important community problem is a significant investment.

It is a reflection of a community's commitment to address an issue that affects a large segment of the population.

In Marin's case, that investment is being dedicated to the county's senior population, one that is growing and faces challenges. In this case, it addresses the needs of those who choose to spend their senior years in their homes.

According to a presentation to the Marin Board of Supervisors, 90 percent of seniors want to stay in their homes as they grow older.

That preference is not without its challenges and the county is investing $1.6 million in technology to help reduce seniors' isolation and provide caregivers with insight regarding growing mental-health issues.

In some cases, that population is not among the most tech-savvy and supervisors would be wise to get regular progress reports on the program's implementation and results. That way they can make sure that dedication of public cash is being spent in a way that really makes a difference, both for seniors and their families.

It is not unusual across Marin, due to the high cost of housing, that seniors find themselves living alone in their homes. Their children can't afford to live in Marin and are not always around to provide needed support and care.

All too often, the seniors endure with little family or neighbor contact and their plight goes undetected until police and paramedics have to respond to an emergency.

Early intervention and help could rewrite that familiar story line.

Addressing this long-standing problem is one of the county's initiative priorities. It should be.

The volunteer-based Villages program has grown across Marin, providing support and companionship to seniors living by themselves. But it can't reach everyone and the number of seniors in Marin is growing as Baby Boomers turn gray.

The county is using Proposition 63, the 2004 voter-approved mental health act, to pay for the three-year program.

The technology allows users to keep in touch with home-bound seniors, providing regular connections through chats with peer counselors and support groups. It could also be used for other segments of Marin's population, as well.

Certainly, face-to-face contact is preferable, but some seniors may not be interested in striking up such personal conversations with people they don't know. Getting seniors to use the technology may be another challenge.

The county is also taking steps to make sure it is available in languages besides English.

There is not much debate that this is an initiative that focuses on an important social, public health and mental health issue in Marin.

There may be debate over whether a technology-based initiative is the best way to address it.

That's why supervisors, for whom "the buck stops here" when it comes to making sure taxpayer dollars are wisely and effectively spent, should require regular public progress reports.

The best result is that it proves helpful in reaching and benefiting people who might otherwise not get the help and intervention that would improve their lives and allow them to live out those lives where they wish, in their homes.

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(c)2018 The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.)

Visit The Marin Independent Journal (Novato, Calif.) at www.marinij.com

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