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Panel discusses West Virginia’s senior citizens as economic drivers

From left, Dr. Clay Marsh, WVU vice president and dean of Health Sciences at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown, speaks during a panel discussion on aging concerns in West Virginia on Thursday at the annual Legislative Breakfast sponsored by the West Virginia Press Association. To the right is Sharon Rotenberry, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of West Virginia. (Photo by Jess Mancini)

CHARLESTON — Seniors 50 and older will be prime economic drivers for decades to come, a panelist said Thursday at a legislative breakfast meeting sponsored by the West Virginia Press Association.

In 2018, the 50-plus segment contributed $8.3 trillion into the economy, an impact that will jump to $28.2 trillion when the Gen-Alpha generation turns 50 in 2050, said Jane Marks, president of AARP West Virginia.

The economic infusion by the older segment of American society would constitute the “third largest economy in the world,” behind the United States and China, Marks said.

The press association, which represents West Virginia newspapers, organized a panel discussion about concerns with aging in West Virginia at the annual Legislative Breakfast, which marked the half-way point of the 2020 session of the Legislature. Speakers at the breakfast included House and Senate leadership.

Speakers on the aging panel were: Marks; Larry Pack, CEO of Stonerise Healthcare Association and secretary of the West Virginia Healthcare Association; Jennifer Gibson, executive director of the Council on Aging Inc. and All Care Home and Community Services; Dr. Clay Marsh, WVU vice president and dean of Health Sciences at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown; and Sharon Rotenberry, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of West Virginia.

Aging concerns were the topic for a panel Thursday at the Legislative Breakfast sponsored by the West Virginia Press Association. From left, panelists were: Larry Pack, CEO of Stonerise Healthcare Association and secretary of the West Virginia Healthcare Association; Jane Marks, president of West Virginia AARP; Jennifer Gibson, executive director of the Council on Aging Inc. and All Care Home and Community Services; and Sharon Rotenberry, executive director of the Alzheimer’s Association of West Virginia, who is speaking. Also on the panel was Dr. Clay Marsh, WVU vice president and dean of Health Sciences at Ruby Memorial Hospital in Morgantown. (Photo by Jess Mancini)

While the United States leads the world on spending for health care, it is at the bottom for better outcomes as a result, Marsh said. Most health are funds are spent when people are sick rather than trying to be healthy, according to Clark.

“We spend a lot of our health care on sick care,” he said.

Also, for the first time since 1914-15, the life expectancy has dropped for a child born in the last three years, he said. Some of that has to do with the risk from addictions, Marsh said.

A growing patient population in health care facilities has been younger people who have severely damaged their bodies from drug use or other addictions, or they have been placed in care because of a brain injury, Pack said.

Efforts by the state to promote and finance programs that help older residents to stay and live at home have had positive results, Pack said.

The Council on Aging is lobbying the Legislature to increase funding for senior programs through the Bureau of Senior Services that would allow older residents to remain home rather than place in care facilities, Gibson said.

In West Virginia, about 38,000 people have been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, Rotenberry said. Perhaps there are more who have not been told they have the disease, much like 60 years ago when doctors, knowing there was no remedy then, didn’t tell people they had cancer, she said.

“We think that’s less than half of the people who have the disease,” Rotenberry said.

Also speaking during the breakfast was Jennifer Gardner with the Secretary of State’s communications office, about the centennial observance of the 19th amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Suffrage ceremonies are planned around the state, she said.

West Virginia was the 34th state to ratify the amendment, Gardner said. The state ratified the amendment on March 10, 1920.

Jess Mancini can be reached at jmancini@newsandsentinel.com.

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