My Point of View: When seniors do better, everyone does better

Published 9:52 pm Monday, September 17, 2018

My Point of View by Terry Gjersvik

Terry Gjersvik


Since becoming the DFL-endorsed candidate for the District 27A Minnesota House of Representatives seat in May, I’ve knocked on over 8,000 doors. Often I will start at 10 a.m., and it’s those late morning hours when most of the folks I talk with are seniors. Often, the meticulously cared for flowers around the front door or a stone inscribed memento of a lost loved one is a sign that a senior lives here.

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Many times when the door opens, I recognize the parents of my classmates, or after a few minutes of conversing I come to learn we have a common connection through relatives or friends. These meetings give me a deep feeling of responsibility to serve the senior population in our community.

What I’m hearing as I chat with seniors mirrors what national research is telling us. A Journal of Rural Health study found that seniors tend to stay in and move to rural communities because of safety and cost of living advantages, but it also reports that these advantages come with costs, particularly in the areas of health care, social isolation and housing.

Seniors often share their fear of a reduction or elimination of Social Security and talk about the difficulties of living on a fixed income, while the cost of living is always rising. Contrary to what many younger people may think, Medicare isn’t free, and what it does not cover can really leave seniors in a bad situation. Some seniors tell me that when they’ve paid for all their prescriptions, there is not enough left over for groceries.

Couple these concerns with the reality of Albert Lea losing inpatient services, and health care becomes an even scarier topic. Seniors will be the ones most impacted by the loss of inpatient services here in Albert Lea because they are the demographic that utilizes overnight stays the most. Seniors will see a disproportionate increase in their out-of-pocket expenses for outpatient observation beds and travel costs associated with rerouting for hospital stays in Austin and perhaps even more distant locations. Their hard-earned life savings are at risk due to these changes.

Changes in health invariably cause most seniors to drive less and eventually stop driving altogether, creating a heightened risk of social isolation and the dangers associated with it. While we have a form of public transit here, it’s not as readily accessible as that in the metro and larger outstate cities. We need to maintain and improve what we have by continuing to fund and expand MnDOT’s Rural Transportation Program, which makes systems like our local SMART buses possible.

In regard to housing, seniors often tell me their homes are paid for, but as they become less mobile, moving to a newer, more accessible home is not in the budget. They need help with strategies to get a laundry room and accessible bathroom all on the first floor. The 2014 Albert Lea Housing Study supports stories seniors are telling me, showing that our area has a real shortage of affordable single-story, smaller “patio homes” marketed to seniors. The same study found we have an overall lack of high quality rental properties and other “downsized” options like newer duplexes and fourplexes more suitable for empty nesters. As a result, many of our seniors are living in homes that no longer suit their physical and financial realities.

Solutions to housing problems are complicated, but there are real strategies and programs to help. For example, continuing to fully fund the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency will maintain MHFA grant and lending programs designed to help seniors remodel their current housing to fit their new physical needs. Working with our local Housing and Redevelopment Agency, we can help seniors access these programs. Collaborating with the HRA, we can also seek additional grants to make new single-story housing developments for seniors a viable option for local developers willing to partner with government agencies. These are not overnight, quick fixes, but rather strategies and solutions that take vision, leadership and the ability to work together.

I am a persistent leader who is willing to work with anyone to improve the lives of seniors in our area because senior challenges impact us all. In other words, we’re in this together. When our seniors do better, we all do better, and I can’t wait to fight for our seniors in St. Paul.

If you would like to learn more about me or help with my campaign, please visit our Facebook page or website at Together we work, and together we win.

Terry Gjersvik is a father, farmer, teacher and businessman. He lives and works on a third-generation farm near Manchester.