Michael Karson, president and CEO of the Area Agency on Aging 1-B in Southfield, a state and federally funded organization dedicated to helping the elderly and adults with disabilities, recently finished his first year in his position. The organization offers help with transportation, meals, home care, and Medicare and Medicaid. Other branches of the same organization offer resources to those living in other parts of metro Detroit. Karson wants anyone with questions about caring for loved ones to contact the agency at (800) 852-7795 or check out the website at aaa1b.org.
DDN: What is the mission of the Area Agency on Aging 1-B?
MK: Our mission is focused on supporting older adults and people with disabilities and family caregivers in our six-county region, which includes Livingston, Macomb, Monroe, Oakland, St. Clair, and Washtenaw counties. We also give older adults and their families the support they need to stay living independently as much as possible in a safe community setting. We also have service wrap-around for seniors to support them in different points of need, which is from home-care assistance, transportation, home-delivered meals, and help with Medicare and Medicaid.
DDN: What has the agency accomplished in the last year?
MK: I think really I’ve spent a lot of time building an understanding of our programs and our relationships with our community partners and how we can better serve the seniors in our region. Our agency has a big scope, a lot of impact with people. And I also spend a lot of time in improving our financial position for the agency with an eye to the future to meet the needs of our region with a rapidly growing elderly population. And again, overseeing the growth of our agency. We added several key positions, and in doing so, we put ourselves in a good spot to continue to look forward to the future, and as we improve our financial positions and really start focusing on the future of what the needs are going to be in the next three-five years in our region.
DDN: What are your goals for the future?
MK: My goals for the future is we continue to deliver high-quality programs to meet the needs of the growing senior population in our region. The 60+ population in our region is over 730,000. It’s projected to grow at a rate of 60 per day going forward. As the population continues to grow, we have to continue to think about new, creative approaches to make sure that we’re providing the programs and services to ensure that the elderly population continue to live safely in the community. To do that, through that understanding we have of our seniors, we also have a need today to make sure that we’re building for the future, so some of the things we’re doing is looking at diversifying our fund sources to make sure that our financial resources required are there to meet the growing population. As the population grows, our traditional funding sources traditionally have not kept up with the population, and that’s usually from the state and federal dollars are the fund sources. So, we’re looking for other ways to do that. And one of the things we just started this year is our philanthropic efforts. We recently hired a director of philanthropy, and we’re actively involving and building a philanthropic program, so we’re excited about that. We’re also looking at other areas that we can provide services for seniors that kind of near or work toward some of the things we’re currently doing, so we’re looking to work with more managed care programs, we’re looking at health systems, we’re looking at senior housing, so we’re looking at a lot of different areas to make sure that we’re getting ready for the future and that we’re going to be very proactive in making sure that we can meet the needs of as many people as possible.
DDN: What have you learned during your tenure as president and CEO?
MK: The first thing is, it’s really about the dedicated staff and the mission, how mission-driven they are. The agency is filled with people that are exceptionally dedicated to the mission and the passion of helping seniors. There are countless examples of staff … where they go the extra mile and put their heart and soul into their work. That was probably the first thing that I really figured out when I was here. And then, again, it’s the incredible network of community partners. Partners help us to serve the people that we deliver the services to at a local level to increase our reach. (They) bring a lot of knowledge and expertise to the table, and they also help us create a true service network of people and organizations that are there to serve everybody. And also, I found that our advisory committee and our executive board have been extremely helpful to provide feedback and their expertise that they’ve had in the private sector, the government sector to bringing that forward to help us as we plan for the next three-five years.
DDN: What do you want people to know about the agency?
MK: That we’re here to help older adults and people with disabilities and family caregivers; that we have a wide breadth of services and programs and resources that can help; that we give seniors and their families a place to turn to; and we have an information and assistance program; that we have people who are unbiased that will get as much information in any area that they need, if you don’t know where to get services, if you need a home care agency, assisted living, a nursing home, if you need meals, help with Medicare and Medicaid, the information and assistance program is part of the core structure of an Area Agency on Aging to make sure that this unbiased resource is available. I think it’s important too that you know our phone number … we have real people on the other end that are compassionate, they’re knowledgeable, they’re people that are going to listen and find the answers. At our website, we have a whole array of information on our services, our personnel, our programs, our classes, so just a lot of information there to help people.
I would really like people to know that we should be the first place that they turn, and if they have information, need clarification, they should come to us. So many times, I see people go on Facebook asking a question that all of the sudden a loved one needs immediate assistance, they’re being discharged from the hospital, they’re going home and they can’t be alone anymore, and people will go on Facebook asking for information and they’ll ask if they know anybody that can help or what should I do. And this is really the opportunity to call the Area Agency on Aging to get the professionals on the other end of the phone that will really give people the facts and the information that they need. We’re not sponsored by anybody. We don’t take private donations from businesses, we don’t have a business-to-business relationship in our referral center. Everything, like I said, is totally unbiased and straightforward, so I really hope that people will get to know us and understand that we’re a great place to reach out for that resource.