Board approves letter of support for ‘age-friendly’ initiative

Published 6:23 pm Tuesday, February 7, 2023

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After previous discussion at both a board meeting and a workshop on the topic, the Freeborn County Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to approve a letter of support for creating an age-friendly environment.

The effort is part of an iniative through AARP’s Age-Friendly Communities network that is being spearheaded locally by the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce.

Second District Commissioner Dawn Kaasa voted against the measure, saying she thought it was in the county’s best interest to stay neutral and not affiliate with any specific groups, when there are other groups that support seniors as well.

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“As I stated at the workshop, I feel that our Department of Human Services staff and our Public Health and social workers do a wonderful job of assisting our older residents,” Kaasa said. They all work very hard and they’re dedicated staff. If all this endorsement will do is make more work for them by getting numbers, counts, reports to this group so they can get a certification from AARP saying good job, I am not for it.”

She said she also wanted to talk to other towns who have done the program to see if it has been beneficial for them.

Fourth District Commissioner Chris Shoff also questioned how much staff time would be devoted to the effort if the board approved the letter.

Administrator Candace Pesch said it was her understanding that the initiative would be led by the chamber and focus on eight areas of concern, identifying gaps in services for seniors and to make sure there are not any redundancies. She was not sure it the group would be asking county staff for data or compiling it on their own.

Fifth District Commissioner Nicole Eckstrom pointed out that the county would not be committing funds through passing the letter and said it could lead to more grants for the area with the goal of keeping seniors in their homes for longer.

First District Commissioner Brad Edwin asked if there would be added stress to the Human Services and Public Health departments.

DHS Director Susie Nerison said her concern was the unknown but noted if it did she would like to bring that to the board with explanation.

Public Health Director Sue Yost said her department is already required to do a community health assessment every five years, and she thought the additional efforts would enhance that.

She said it is always good to try to figure out locally what gaps there are in services.

Edwin asked that if the initiative led to more burden on the two departments that it be brought back to the board.

The board approved adjustments to the draft letter of support.

Shari Sprague, executive director of the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce, said at the previous workshop that as part of the initiative, a survey would be sent out to seniors all over the county to find out where the county is lacking in the eight domains. From there, she and other community partners will create an action plan and then implement that plan.

If they ask the county for funding to support an effort, the board will have the chance to approve any financial obligation at that time.