Gettysburg Connection is pleased to share the opinions of Adams County residents. This article is an opinion piece (op-ed) that represents the opinion and analysis of the writer. The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of Gettysburg Connection or its supporters. We'd love to share your thoughts. Please leave a comment below or email us: mail@gettysburgconnection.org.

A rumination about an aging county

Way back when I was a youthful 68 years old, I was the one people told “I’d have never believed you were that old.” Now, five years later, time has caught up and I’m the one who everyone asks, “May I carry your tray, Sir?” As philosopher Ferris Bueller observed, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

The growth of the elderly population in Adams County has been dramatic. In the 2000 census, people 60 years and older made up 18% of the population. In 2023, the Census estimates that age category now makes up 30% of the population. The 55 and over age group is the only age group showing growth.

And the real estate market is responding, with the development of dedicated senior communities (like Amblebrook, The Links, Deatrick Village, and the Preserves) that attract a lot of seniors.

There are many positives to attracting seniors. They buy nice houses. They probably eat out more than average, which means at least the seniors who live here year-round provide some support for restaurants in the seasons when the tourists are gone. They bring in income without (for the most part) needing a job. They don’t, again for the most part, have children that create overcrowded schools and, require new school construction.

However, this dependence on seniors comes with a cost. The seniors who live and buy a new house in Amblebrook likely are “very young” seniors. That may sound like a demographic oxymoron, but the simple fact is, “seniors” in the 65 and under age range are completely different things than seniors 75 or older. They may have more aches and pains and a longer list of medications than they did when they were 45, but compared to what awaits, demographically, 65-year-olds are physically well. Most of them can get dressed in the morning, do their own grocery shopping, and get themselves to doctor visits. By age 75, that’s beginning to change and by 80, for the most part, Father Time has caught up.

Medical care

There are many reasons for a person of any age to move to Adams County: the history, the scenery, the pace of life, and more. But nobody moves here for world-class medical care. The medical care in Gettysburg is overwhelmingly “adequate.” Specialists tend to be one-deep. You may have to wait quite a while for an appointment. Or go to York. Or Hershey. Or the DC area. As the patient’s age increases, their demand for medical services can grow rapidly. This affects medical practices, the load on the hospital’s emergency room, the number of hospital admissions, the number of cardiologists, pulmonologists, and other “-ists” we need.

After four hospital admissions between us in our first 7 years in town, my wife and I have had four admissions since last February, including three in the past four months. That’s probably extreme but it’s the trend. Adams is looking at a double whammy with the number of seniors continuing to increase as does the average age of this population. Is Adams County going to attract another 50% increase in medical practitioners? Nurses? Over the short run, it’s more likely to lose some.

Home health aides

My wife and I are examples of how a household’s medical care requirements can escalate dramatically. Healthy and independent as recently as mid-December, we’ve both had enough medical setbacks in the past month – some of them hopefully temporary – that we have been set upon by a small battalion of visiting nurses, physical therapists, home health aides, and the like.

And the medical establishment has been adequate to meet our needs. But even at the level of medical aide care we require (a small fraction of what the even grayer Gettysburg market is likely to generate in 10-15 years), the local workforce is able to meet only a small fraction of the need. Just in the past week, we have had home visits by nurses/therapists from Dover, DE; and Westminster, Mount Airy, Frederick, and Newmarket, MD.

Two certainties are that this market will need much more help in the future and that nobody is moving to Adams County to pursue a career as a home health aide. Where will we attract, say, double the current workforce? Bringing them in from, say, the Eastern Shore?

Housing

Where do they go when they’re too old for the Links? Those McMansions in Amblebrook look mighty fine when you’re moving from Fairfax County, where that $450,000 house would be $1.2 million. But where will they live when it is suddenly “more house than we need?”

A few years ago, Country Meadows proposed a very nice senior community on Old Mill Rd. near the airport. But the neighbors fought Country Meadows to the point they pulled out. It would have been a very nice addition to the pool of elderly housing. Country Meadows will never build here and it looks like other developers of assisted living are in no hurry to expand. The demand for assisted living is likely to increase sharply within the next 5-10 years. The Lutheran home and Cross Keys have long waiting lists now; where is 30% more senior housing coming from?

Summary

It seems clear that the county is looking at rapidly growing needs for doctors, nurses, hospital beds, home health aides, and elderly housing in the not-too-distant future. For a number of reasons, this doesn’t seem like an issue where “the market will adjust.” Adams County could be looking at serious elder care issues as the elderly population outgrows the infrastructure. Now isn’t too early to start thinking about this issue.

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Leon Reed, freelance reporter, is a former US Senate staff member, defense consultant, and history teacher. He is a seven year resident of Gettysburg, where he writes military history and explores the park and the Adams County countryside. He is the publisher at Little Falls Books, chaired the Adams County 2020 Census Complete Count Committee and is on the board of SCCAP and the local Habitat for Humanity chapter. He and his wife, Lois, have 3 children, 3 cats, and 5 grandchildren.

 

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Art House
Art House
1 year ago

Surely, the two primary health care systems that serve Adams County (Wellspan and UPMC) are aware of the aging demographics here that are resulting in a greater demand. I have no reason to believe that those systems will not expand their local provider networks and resources to meet the increased demand.

Leon Reed
Leon Reed
1 year ago
Reply to  Art House

Wow. You mean sort of like they’re (not) handling the problem now? When it’s not (yet) a crisis? Headlines: nursing shortages; over-crowded emergency rooms; 8-16 hour ER waits to be admitted; shortages of home health aides; nursing facilities reducing capacity due to staff shortages; hospitals can’t discharge patients; Country Meadows abandons plans for retirement facility; long waiting lists at Lutheran home and Cross Keys. Nurses leaving the profession. This all as we’re dealing with the very thin entering wedge of what will be an overwhelming number of needs in a decade. I guess they’re just waiting until things get serious… Read more »

Art House
Art House
1 year ago
Reply to  Leon Reed

I can only address the reality of what my family and I have experienced. My wife and I are both seniors with a variety of healthcare needs that have included frequent access to primary care, to many specialists in a vaiety of disciplines, ER visits, and hospital admissions both at Wellspan Gettysburg Hospital and UPMC Hanover Hospital. Casting our nets wide, we have had no trouble finding providers because we are willing to deal with either Wellspan or UPMC, and to go to Gettysburg, Hanover, Fairfield, Waynesboro, or Mechanicsburg for care. ER visits to both Gettysburg and Hanover have always… Read more »

Sandy Cromer
Sandy Cromer
1 year ago

Spot on in this article, but what about those elderly who can’t afford these nursing homes. What happens to them? Especially those who have no children?

Candy Paulson
Candy Paulson
1 year ago

Leon Reed as usual is spot on. His remarks should increase our conversations in finding creative solutions for this growing need.
Luring Country Meadows (or others) back to Adams County (we should be ashamed at what has replaced them on Old Mill Road)
Should become a priority for County government at this point.
Township decisions gave way to greed and shortsightedness. The County Planning and Development
Office and all other entities will need a sharp focus in the coming needs of the aging population.

Donald Marritz
Donald Marritz
1 year ago

cogent, informative

Laurie Gelb
Laurie Gelb
1 year ago

This article is not very interesting…there is nothing to indicate factual information just anecdotes and hypotheses I’m. Why not write about some things that are actually happening in Adams county other than people aging.

MARIETTA WITT
MARIETTA WITT
1 year ago
Reply to  Laurie Gelb

I don’t agree with you at all. Maybe you are young enough that you think this doesn’t apply to you, but believe me honey, it will.

Barbara Zimmerman
Barbara Zimmerman
1 year ago
Reply to  Laurie Gelb

Sadly, Everything Leon says is absolutely true. There is a tremendous need for Senior Care housing in Adams County. I fear our health care system will not be able to handle the increase population of Seniors. And everyone, no matter what age will pay for this lack of good, basic health care. The time is now to address this need.

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