By Thomas Goldsmith
During Gov. Roy Cooper’s final full year in office, his administration will make a first-time, major push to benefit North Carolina’s fast-growing older population through new funding and changes in state operations according to interviews with principals and state documents.
Cooper’s legislative initiative will emerge during 2024 as the result of a public-nonprofit-business collaboration called “All Ages, All Stages NC: A Roadmap for Aging and Living Well,” which is set forth in an executive order on the topic.
Support from North Carolina’s Republican-led General Assembly will be required to fulfill any of the new plan’s far-reaching approaches, including increasing the state’s supply of direct-care workers and improving older people’s access to transportation, housing and such services as senior centers and respite care.
“No. 1 is supporting the direct care industry,” said Cooper, a Democrat, after the announcement. “We know that there is a critical shortage right now to look after seniors and to make sure they receive the direct care that they need.”
While focused on older residents, the “All Ages, All Stages” plan and title reflects its aim “to make sure that individuals of all ages and stages of life can thrive and age gracefully within the state.”
A mansion presentation
In May, Cooper — who turned 66 in June — walked onto the picturesque grounds of the Executive Mansion in Raleigh to present the executive order through which he would lead state agencies, local governments and nonprofits toward goals that include making North Carolina the nation’s 10th state designated as “age-friendly” under an AARP program.
It was an optimistic presentation, served up with lemonade and chocolate chip cookies. But the event contained no emphasis on any new laws or regulations, which would be required to drive its ambitious, collaborative plan involving government, nonprofits and business, as well as other key sectors such as health care and the environment. Nor did anyone mention new spending to support financial goals that an official later agreed could cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
“There is no question but that we’re going to need significant resources to be the kind of age-friendly state that we want to be,” Cooper said after the announcement.
Preliminary budget requests arising from the new plan are to be produced by February. The process is being led by the NC Division of Aging and Adult Services and the Division of Health Benefits, which manages the state’s Medicaid program.
Which plan is which?
Division staff and leaders, along with the state Area Agencies on Aging, have conducted multiple listening sessions across the state, especially in underserved communities, to learn what older people wanted this plan to include. Planners emerged with a focus on equity and goals that often reflect those announced by Gov. Roy Cooper in May.