GOUVERNEUR, N.Y. (WWTI) — Communities are racing to meet the needs of their aging populations.

“A bulk of our seniors that we work with are living just above poverty levels,” St. Lawrence County Office for the Aging Director Andrea Montgomery said. “Which means they don’t qualify for a lot of programs and services that they would if they were income-eligible for Medicaid.”

Montgomery explained that this issue was only worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Food insecurity is one [issue] that we’ve talked about,” she said. “And certainly just being able to afford day-to-day life bills, utilities, things like that. We definitely have a lot more need coming in.”

But the New York State Office for the Aging has considered these factors in its newly drafted four-year master plan.

This plan was developed following a massive statewide service that was issued to older adults. The four-year plan is required by the federal government and submitted to the Administration on Community Living of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

NYSOFA has proposed to focus its efforts in the next four years on long-term care reform, targeting equity supporting individuals that have the greatest social and economic needs, supporting caregivers, building system capacity and continuing COVID-19 recovery efforts.

The Office has presented its drafted plan to communities across the state, ending in the North Country on May 30 in Gouverneur.

As the last plan was written prior to the pandemic, NYSOFA Assistant Director of Special Project Crystal Collette expressed that the office has prioritized supporting older adults in a post-pandemic era.

“So we’re very focused, post-pandemic, on attending to social isolation,” Collette said. “We’ve always known in the aging community that social isolation is bad for our health physically and emotionally. But now, the pandemic has shown a light on that like never before.”

The drafted plan elaborates on these recovery proposals. But each of the plan’s five goals will look different in each community.

This is why Collette said the plan can be flexible to meet each county’s needs.

“We know small, rural communities reach folks differently and have different needs,” she expressed. “We want to empower our local communities to do what works for them with our support.”

Montgomery added that she believes the plan will help support St. Lawrence County’s aging population.

“Our adults want to age in place for as long as they can,” Montgomery explained. “I think they’re doing a great job at looking at all aspects of services that are going to be able to help them do that.”

To ensure that all needs are addressed across New York State in the next four years, NYSOFA will accept public feedback on the draft through Wednesday, June 14. The draft can be read online or below.