In an effort to better address the growing demographic of seniors in Westerville, the city is planning to become certified as an Age-Friendly Community.

Age-Friendly Communities officially are designated through the American Association of Retired Persons and World Health Organization's Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities, which opens cities up to receive grant funding for improvements.

The organizations focus on improving outdoor spaces and buildings, transportation, housing, social participation, respect and social inclusion, work and civic participation, communication and information, as well as community support and health services.

Assistant City Manager Julie Colley said those categories serve as a good starting point for improving the lives of Westerville's seniors.

"Staff has spent a great deal of time with this. The Age-Friendly initiative provides a good framework for us to continue this conversation for the benefit of our community and central Ohio," she said.

"Where are we going? What do we have? What are the gaps? Where are the resources located for our seniors so we can help them stay in our community?" she said, are some questions to consider.

Colley said the Age-Friendly Communities conversation has been going on since 2016 in various city departments.

Kim Sharp, deputy director of planning and development, said city staff recommends developing an "Age-Friendly Westerville plan" that builds on the city's Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan and the Westerville Comprehensive Plan.

"A lot of work already has gone into the PROS Plan and the Westerville Comprehensive Plan," she said. "We would use those and work on that work, those goals and recommendations."

Sharp said the city largely can skip the demographics conversation of the process because Westerville is aware of its increasingly large senior population.

"We know that a healthy community has many demographics, and we have plenty of wise folks in our community," she said. "We understand the need ... as well as understand that we have a plethora of senior-living facility applications coming to our planning commission."

Some of the services and changes that would be implemented as an Age-Friendly Community already have been explored by the city's department heads.

Westerville Division of Fire Chief Brian Miller said his department has been learning for years about how to better respond to different situations involving his team, and he has "frequently" seen seniors in housing that doesn't meet their needs.

"There are many services available to our older adult population -- it's (about) connecting the older adults to those services," he said.

One of those services has been a partnership with National Church Residences, which has provided Miller and his department with a "community service coordinator" at no charge to the city. That person works with the fire department, police department and code enforcement to identify the problems that seniors are having in their current housing situations.

Miller said it's yielded "remarkable" results.

"We typically spend 15 or 20 minutes with a patient, but (the community service coordinator) spends two or three hours getting background information and connecting them to the different central services that are available throughout central Ohio and getting them the help they need," he said.

Westerville City Council members were receptive to the idea and will see a resolution in July that will "pledge" the city as an Age-Friendly Community.

Council Chairman Mike Heyeck said he appreciated the push.

"This is much more than just senior housing, for example," he said. "This is really aging in place, which is the most affordable option. I understand the need."

From there, city staff members will prepare an official application and organize a staff task force.

According to a staff memo, plans would be developed over the next three years in addition to conducting a variety of meetings and surveys.

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