Mary Kenyon

Rural residents pay the same county taxes as everyone else. They pay into the Healthy Community Fund for open space, water improvements and transportation up and down Highway 82. Rural residents live up the Crystal Valley, over in Old Snowmass, in Missouri Heights and in unincorporated Garfield County that surrounds Carbondale.

In many cases, they live nowhere near the amenities they fund. They have service needs just like the rest of us and are entitled to access programs or activities that are paid by tax dollars — or are they? This issue comes up more frequently these days as the number of older rural residents increases as the baby boom generation continues to age.

Rural is defined as “in relating to, or characteristic of, the countryside, rather than the town.” In grant requests, our whole area is considered rural. Bring on the funding! When it comes to services, the areas considered rural depend on the geographic reach of the controlling entity. Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of Roaring Fork Valley residents that are not in a town and out in the cold. Currently, that number is estimated to be over 3,500 residents and growing.

By the registered voter numbers, residents over 60 years living in our region number 4,238 in Pitkin County, 1,631 in western Eagle County and 9,992 in Garfield County, with 735 residents over 60 living in the town of Carbondale.

Recently, an out-of-state family member of an older adult in Carbondale called me because her mother’s automatic dispensing pill box was acting up. She wanted to know if I could go by and check it out. When I arrived, the pill box was empty. Visually impaired, the resident matter-of-factly stated that she is just going to take them on her own when she wanted to.

I looked at the 12 orange bottles with their loosened white caps and gasped. Some were to be taken at certain times, some several times per day, some first thing in the morning and others after a meal. My head started to spin.

I called the number on the pill box label and found out that the caregiving service that had contracted to fill the pharmaceutical dispensing contraption each Friday had pulled out of the Roaring Fork Valley. The company called back and was very kind and apologetic. They offered the explanation of not being able to keep employees in our region, but offered no real solutions to the current dilemma.

I started calling the five-six names of companies that were magnetically attached to the refrigerator — some had different names but were answered by the same person. After going through all of those with no luck, I started to sweat. The day was dwindling away and panic (mine) was setting in.

My next call was the doctor’s office listed on the pill bottles. Hallelujah, they were Upvalley that day, but would fill the box if I brought it to them with the army of orange bottles. It was a tedious and time-consuming task that interrupted the end of a busy office day for them, but they came to the rescue. Whew!

I returned to the home with my accomplished task in hand (and earning a big hug) and realized that this was the “norm” for many older adults here: services disappear, resources dry up and options dwindle. They are forced to make do, tough it out, go without, or worse, become prematurely institutionalized to get the typical in-home services they couldn’t find or weren’t afforded. I have said it before but it bears repeating: We can do better.

The counties in our region have the highest life expectancy in the nation. We also have healthy revenues supporting core services, including those for older adults, with just Pitkin County coming in at over $44 million for 2020. Despite our healthy communities and revenues, we are suffering in our expansive rural areas from a case of the too’s: It’s too far from the office, too difficult, takes too much time and is too much distraction for staff, so, too bad!

When I made the suggestion that if it was too far to cover (which Mid-Valley volunteers were covering), perhaps the taxes for services or for the wellness fund should be waived (of course they can’t be but I thought I would make the point anyway). I was told that that is not the way the government works. Needless to say, that conversation didn’t end well, but I did get a “thank you for your assistance, Mary, but it is really none of your concern.”

Well THAT is where he was wrong. It is my concern and it should be everyone in the Roaring Fork Valley’s concern. It is certainly the concern of the older adults in this county who need to eat and can’t get upstairs to fetch toilet paper. Some of our friends and neighbors need a little assistance every once in a while and where there are options available via tax revenues, they should be equally available to all.

If the new government-issued SUVs can make it to Denver, La Junta and/or Montrose for meetings, they can certainly travel throughout the Roaring Fork Valley. If there are resources, such as the $1K home services voucher available to ANY older adult in the region, let’s get that information into every household, no matter where it is geographically situated.

Resilience is an overused word these days but it is so applicable to the rural residents I have come to know in our region. Bravo to all of you! Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. The definition goes on to state, “being resilient does not mean that a person doesn't experience difficulty or distress.” Beyond adapting well to the geographic isolation from services, rural residents here are so appreciative of the private groups and individuals who literally go the extra mile to be there for them.

Thanks to the volunteers, caregivers, friends-of-friends, church groups, youth organizations, nonprofits and drivers who selflessly make the time and effort for our longtime community members.

Solutions to the entitled services-delivery challenges demand a new approach. At the Manaus+Grid+You Housing Innovation Workshop on Feb. 14 in Basalt, we were told to leave the “No, but” attitude at the door and adopt a “Yes, and” posture. Good idea. Let’s say yes, indeed! Yes, you are a valued part of our community. Yes, we are happy to assist you, deliver a meal, provide services and pay you a friendly visit in your time of need. And, yes, and it doesn’t matter where you live in the county.

Mary Kenyon is a member and advocate of our older population and is passionate about identifying issues and resources for elders in the Roaring Fork Valley. Email her your challenges and suggested solutions at mary@impactmarketingaspen.com or call 970-274-2632.