More than 300 people are expected to attend a daylong summit this month to help develop an action plan to address the various challenges that Maine faces because it has a rapidly aging population.
House Speaker Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, and the Maine Council on Aging will host the Maine Summit on Aging on Jan. 17 at the Augusta Civic Center. Participants will help draw up policy initiatives that may lead to legislation related to elder housing, health care, transportation and workforce development, and the benefits of building age-friendly communities.
As of Monday, 310 people had registered for the summit, which is limited to 360 participants because of space constraints, said Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
The summit follows four roundtable talks that Eves and the council hosted in the fall, when more than 30 government, business and community leaders gathered for wide-ranging discussions of aging issues, including a growing need for home-care workers at a time when Maine already has a shortage.
“This is a magnifying opportunity,” Maurer said. “Through the speaker’s roundtables, we started the conversation and came up with some good ideas. There’s no question the horse is out of the barn and there’s great interest in addressing the challenges collectively.”
Maurer said few states have taken such a comprehensive approach to issues of aging, and advocates for the elderly outside Maine have expressed envy.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee held a summit on aging in October with 100 invited participants, including cabinet officials, legislators, community leaders and experts on the issue, similar to Maine’s roundtable talks.
Maine’s summit was planned to reach beyond the roundtable panelists to individuals who have broader interests and experiences related to aging. The summit is open to the public, with scholarships available for people who cannot afford the $20 registration fee, which helps cover the cost of the hall and food served throughout the day. The summit is sponsored by the John T. Gorman Foundation of Portland, which supports efforts to help more Maine seniors age in place.
“We really are far ahead of most states in working collaboratively to solve problems related to aging,” Maurer said. “We’re on the leading edge.”
Maine’s issues are more acute than those of most states.
Maine is the oldest state based on median age (43.5 years) and the second-oldest based on the proportion of people 65 and older (17 percent), according to the U.S. Census. Florida is No. 1 with 18.2 percent.
Maine also has the highest proportion of baby boomers – 29 percent of its 1.3 million residents were born in the period from 1946 to 1964.
The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram is examining various impacts of Maine’s rapidly aging population in a special investigative series, “The Challenge of Our Age,” which shows that the state isn’t taking good care of its seniors now and isn’t prepared for what’s coming.
In particular, experts say, Maine’s aging workforce poses significant challenges to sustaining economic growth and maintaining viable communities. They say government, business and community leaders at all levels must find innovative ways to attract and retain workers, create new housing and transportation options for people of all ages, and deliver support and services to keep older Mainers healthy and thriving in their homes.
Peter Vigue, chairman and CEO of The Cianbro Cos., is one of several speakers who will address the summit’s early-morning session. He’ll share his views on valuing older workers, which Cianbro does by encouraging older workers to stay on the job and become trainers for younger welders, pipefitters, engineers and other employees.
“There are misperceptions out there that people who are along in years may or may not add value to the workforce,” said Vigue, who is 66. “A lot of older people who work in our company become outstanding mentors, coaches and teachers.”
Other members of the early-morning panel are Charles Colgan, an economist and professor at the Muskie School of Public Service at the University of Southern Maine; Dr. Lisa Letourneau, executive director of Maine Quality Counts; and Evan Richert, a land-use planning consultant who is Orono’s town planner.
A late-morning panel will discuss innovative solutions. Panelists will include Tony Levesque, community development director in Fort Fairfield; Linda Jariz, a member of the Advisory Committee on Aging in Bowdoinham; and Judy Shaw, administrator of the Maine Office of Securities and member of the Maine Council on Elder Abuse Prevention Financial Exploitation Working Group.
During afternoon work sessions, participants will break into groups to work on recommendations related to housing and transportation, workforce and employment, public and private safety, health care and social services, building age-friendly communities, and higher education.
Eves will deliver the opening address, speaking about the University of Maine’s efforts to promote research on aging issues across various departments. U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine will give the closing address.
“We’re looking to change the conversation so we’re not just looking at Maine’s aging population as a deficiency or a burden, but an asset that we should use to our advantage,” Eves said. “I don’t think we’re going to find the solutions we need unless we approach aging as an asset.”
Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at: