Ron Henze works out in the fitness room at United Senior Service in Springfield Friday. Ohio ranks 35th for senior health, improving three spots from the previous year. BILL LACKEY/STAFF

Ohio seniors health improving as Clark County population ages

Ohio ranked 35th in senior health, according to an annual report released recently by the United Health Foundation. Last year, the state ranked 38th out of 50 states.

SPECIAL REPORT: Healthy Springfield

In 2013, seniors represented nearly 18 percent of the Clark County population, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That number is only going to increase as baby boomers get older, United Senior Services Executive Director Maureen Fagans said.

“The senior population is still growing,” she said. “We’re going to continue to see growth at our downtown center for the next 15 to 20 years.”

More than 15 percent of the Ohio’s population is older than 65, a group that makes up more than 1 in 7 Americans.

The health study was based on several measures and outcomes, including premature death, smoking, obesity and physical inactivity. Ohio performed well in several areas, including prescription drug coverage, hospice use and low percentage of hospital deaths.

The state struggled in areas such as food insecurity, which increased from 12.9 percent in 2014 to 17.6 percent in 2016. The state also has a high prevalence of smoking and obesity.

RELATED: Ohio lags in senior health as Clark County population ages

United Senior Services recently opened a renovated $6.7 million seniors center at 125 W. Main St., the former Eagles building. The agency was founded in 1968 and serves adults ages 55 and older in Clark County.

Since it opened last August, the center has already increased its membership by 1,600 people. The response has been overwhelming, Fagans said.

“We expected growth, but we were bowled over by the amount of growth,” she said.

The agency’s membership rose to 5,100 member. It operates six locations across the county and seven nutrition sites. It averages about 240 people per day at the downtown Springfield center, many of which are younger seniors looking for more ways to stay active in the community, she said.

MORE: Food insecurity hurts public health

The renovated center has allowed for increased activities, including pickleball, aquatics, hula dancing classes and chess club. The agency follows the seven dimensions of wellness, Fagans said, which consists of social, emotional, spiritual, environmental, occupational, intellectual and physical health.

“Our programming is diverse and we try very hard to address all of those different aspects of wellness,” Fagans said.

A new cafeteria was also added as part of the new facility, she said. The agency’s subsidized lunch program has quintupled since it opened, Fagans said. They’re averaging about 45 to 50 people per day. The agency also provides meals to seniors across the county, she said. It served 118,000 meals last year, which she expects to pass this year.

It spends about $2.7 million of its $4 million budget on in-home supportive services, which includes Meals on Wheels, transportation for medical appointments, respite for caregivers and health outreach at senior living facilities. The agency’s mission is to allow seniors to stay independent, rather than enter institutionalized care facilities.

“Everybody recognizes that helping people maintain their independence makes economic sense, but it also makes for people’s quality of life,” Fagans said.

RELATED: Ohio food bank group faces $1M cut from state, including Springfield

The Clark County Combined Health District partners with other agencies to reach out to seniors about their health on a regular basis, Health Educator Anita Biles said. The senior population was able to speak with doctors and other local health entities at last week’s NAACP Minority Health Fair, she said.

“They’re a target population for being very at-risk,” Biles said. “We’re always concerned about making sure they’re taking their medication correctly and exercising.”

Several projects have been completed or are in the works locally for the senior population, including the Community Gardens senior living neighborhood, as well as expansions at both Oakwood Village and the Ohio Masonic Home.

The health district and Community Mercy Health Partners are both working with local partners to plan projects based on health data to make the senior population healthier, Biles said.

“We’re at the table with them, sharing that data,” she said. “They’re able to pull from that and say ‘These are the resources we have, this is the direction we want to go.’”

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