An alarming number of older adults—roughly 18 million people—are struggling or need help with at least one daily activity. This circumstance, reported by the University of Michigan and the Urban Institute in a new study entitled “Disability and Care Needs Among Older Americans,” is further exacerbated by the fact that 30% of these seniors have had an adverse consequence related to an unmet need.


The study also found that a disproportionate amount of those needing substantial assistance are comprised of the economically disadvantaged, widows and minorities, leading researchers to conclude that “the older population—especially those with few economic resources—has substantial late-life care needs. Policies to improve long-term services and supports and reduce unmet need could benefit both older adults and those who care for them.”


I commend the University of Michigan and the Urban Institute for undertaking this study. The findings can help to further expand and strengthen dialogue on how to achieve programs and support systems that will ensure the safety of seniors, provide necessary and appropriate care, and remain scalable and sustainable. It is indisputable that the need for late-life assistance and the inability to access and/or afford these services is an ever-growing concern given the expanding senior cohort, the inevitable insolvency of entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid, and the inability of many Baby Boomers to adequately save for retirement.


Bold, innovative ideas are needed to address and resolve this predicament. WELShift, a new prototype for senior housing and health care developed by Wesley Enhanced Living, is one such solution that can provide coordinated housing and health care to seniors who, under current approaches, would likely be shut out from these services.


In short, WELShift is designed to provide health and housing security by combining successful and existing care models—CCRCs and PACE—with care coordination and disease management programs. Unlike PACE, however, WELShift would offer integrated care to individuals before they become disabled. Even more, we’ve found that WELShift has the potential to yield greater than a 20% savings to Medicaid over a ten-year period and more than a 30% savings to Medicare.*


In 2013, bi-partisan support for models such as WELShift grew significantly. But, there’s much more work to be done. It is incumbent that policy makers continue their momentum in opening the gate for innovators to develop and test new approaches to senior housing and health care so that family caregivers and their aging loved ones—especially those with modest incomes—can feel assured that housing, support services and health care are available and affordable, well before assistance may ever be needed.