If you were to ask most non-Californians where the Inland Empire was, they probably wouldn’t have an answer. It isn’t a place like Los Angeles or Napa or Silicon Valley that has mythical resonance in the ears of the country. Indeed, even most Californians, and maybe even most residents, wouldn’t be able to define exactly what Inland Empire really is.
That’s not too surprising, though: the Inland Empire is a vast, sprawling metropolitan region, defined by moving east away from the ocean, and a place proud of not being flashy or insistent. It’s a hard-working region, where people from all over the country and the world come to raise families, work decent jobs, and have a good place to live out their old age.
Unfortunately, for too many in the Inland Empire, the last part is getting more and more difficult. Poverty rates in the region are skyrocketing, and the cost of growing older, inflated by richer metropolitan areas along the coast, is going up. As a result, older adults who want to age in place are finding it increasingly difficult.
Disability, poverty, medical conditions, and isolation make it harder for a senior to remain at home as they age. Their spot feels less like a place in an Empire and more like a castle under siege. These conditions can rob people of their choices and force decisions they’d rather not make.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are programs specifically for residents of the Inland Empire to access the services they need to live independently, with dignity and pride. We’re proud to be a part of them, as changing demographics and cultural/economic shifts in the Empire make this ever more vital.
Maybe not everybody knows where the Inland Empire is. But everyone knows what it is like to have a place to call your home, and for less financially-stable residents of the area, keeping theirs as they age can be difficult.
We don’t think that’s right. We intend to help them keep their homes.
Poverty in the Inland Empire
To understand the roots of poverty in the Inland Empire, we have to define where it is. The most common definition is that it refers to San Bernardino and Riverside Counties. Some say that it only includes part of those counties and some say it should include eastern Los Angeles County, though not the city of Los Angeles itself.
Maybe the most helpful definition is that it is the metropolitan region of Riverside-San Bernadino-Ontario. With a population of over 4,000,000, it is the 14th-largest region in America. But considering it a region of cities is still relatively new.
For a century, the area was one of America’s agricultural heartlands, producing crops year-round while the Midwest shivered. In the 70s, it started to become denser, more industrial and commercial, and more crowded. Inexpensive land led to a population explosion, while its location made it key spot for warehousing and logistics.
It’s easy to see where this leads. Huge population growth taxed local services and increased competition for jobs, lowering wages. Unskilled workers competed against each other, adding to that wage depression. And then the Great Recession gutted the warehousing and logistics industry, which didn’t fully rebound thanks to advances in technology that reduce the need for human labor. Meanwhile, the region has long been home to people who work in neighboring communities, such as Los Angeles and Orange County, but were priced out of those more expensive areas as real estate prices soared beyond their means.
Earlier this decade, by some (though not all) accounts, the Inland Empire had the highest rate of poverty in the nation (different researchers use different methods, and the slippery nature of what constitutes the Inland Empire makes a firm accounting nearly impossible). While there has been economic growth, it has been inconsistent and inconsistently distributed. Meanwhile, the cost of living has continued to increase.
This has been especially hard on older adults, particularly those who were near or had just retired when the market crashed. Recovery has been slow and painful and sometimes impossible, leaving many to struggle in their golden years.
In the Inland Empire, the average median household income for residents over the age of 65 is $49,000. That’s lower than the national average of $57,000, lower than the California average of $67,000, and lower than the Los Angeles average of $58,000.
That’s why we feel that aging residents of Inland Empire need help, and the community agrees. This is a diverse and vibrant region, one of the hearts of America’s rich multicultural heritage. It’s a place where family matters. It’s a place where people fight for each other and support each other. And that’s why we’re here to support that.
Preventing Institutionalization for Inland Empire Older Adults
Poverty makes it incredibly hard to live at home for older adults. Specifics about the Inland Empire, such as its car-centric culture, make it hard for older adults who can no longer drive or easily use public transportation to get groceries, to go to the doctor, or to just live their life. Poverty, especially being poor in the Inland Empire, conspire to make it hard to access needed services and these difficulties are further compounded by the social isolation, health issues, and mobility difficulties many seniors face.
That’s where our Inland Empire Community Living Solutions (IECLS) come in. These solutions, available to members of the Inland Empire Health Plan, are designed to connect “clients with home and community-based services, or a combination of goods and services, that help individuals who are currently or at risk of being institutionalized.” In other words, it helps older adults live and age in place.
Aging in place helps keep people comfortable and rooted and gives them independence and a feeling of control over their destinies. It’s also just a nice thing, to be able to grow older in the community you know, among the things you loved and the memories you’ve made. That’s our mission, and that’s the goal of the IECLS.
This is achieved through a three-part approach:
- Coordinated Case Management: We connect clients to community services such as transportation, meals, personal care, housing assistance, etc. Often, it’s understanding the web of red tape that makes so many people throw up their hands in frustration, but coordinated case management helps you cut through that red tape so you can more easily access the resources you need.
- Purchase of Services: We provide needed resources and services to Inland Empire Health Plan members. These are often impossible or difficult to get elsewhere.
- Housing Retention and Placement: If it is needed, we identify, secure, and maintain appropriate community-based housing.
By thoughtfully implementing these services based on each client’s individual needs, the IECLS is able to support aging adults in their goal of successfully remaining in their homes.
Who Is Eligible for the Inland Empire Community Living Service?
We offer our services to three broad categories of people:
- Individuals in the hospitals or short-term care who are willing and able to live in the community even if they have been recommended for institutionalization.
- Individuals who are at risk of being institutionalized
- Individuals currently in long-term care facilities who can live on their own with some support and services.
It is important to note that this program isn’t just for seniors; anyone over the age of 18 is eligible, provided that they:
- Are an Inland Empire Health Plan Member
- Are willing and able to live in the community with appropriate supports
- Need resources and assistance to prevent being placed in long-term care facility or other institution
- Need assistance with at least two activities of daily living or three instrumental activities of daily living
- Have medical conditions that can be managed in the community
This broad scope allows people of diverse ages, abilities, and situations benefit from the IECLS according to their individual needs.
Supportive Communities Can Increase Independence
One of the great terrors of poverty is that it robs you not just of well-being, but of choice. This is becoming an increasing problem in the Inland Empire, especially for immigrants and people of color. The Inland Empire Community Living Services program aims to give that choice back to the people, regardless of their background. We are one community and we must support each other in order to live healthy, fulfilling lives individually and collectively.
Because no matter where you think the Inland Empire has its borders, within those borders are people. These are people who have worked hard their whole lives, and maybe haven’t always gotten a break. But they’ve raised their families, lived their lives, and contributed mightily to the greatness of our state. We owe it to them to give back.
Maybe we can’t define the Inland Empire. But we can define a problem for the older adults who call it home. And we can work to solve that problem. So if you or someone you know is in need, please fill out this form to connect to the IECLS today, and together, we can define a solution.
At Institute on Aging, our programs and services help older adults, their families, and caregivers explore aging together, through good times and bad, as an adventure and a journey. Contact us today to learn more.
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