Wrangell Senior Services Assessment

Denny DeGross, MA
Beth Landon, MBA, MHA
Jenny Loudon, MPA
Sanna Doucette, BA
Janice Troyer, BS
Stacy L. Smith, MFA

The City of Wrangell, Alaska contracted with the Alaska Center for Rural Health (ACRH), UAA to conduct an assessment of community senior services needs. The assessment included four distinct pieces, as follows:

  • A mail-out survey measuring community opinions about local health and social and other support services for seniors, including their expected utilization;
  • A list of existing senior services;
  • Focus groups discussing services for seniors and their needs, and key informant interviews addressing similar topics, as well as potential resources;
  • A community-wide goal-setting meeting.

A group of organizations and individuals collaborated on this project. The Alaska Center for Rural Health acted as the lead agency. Their colleagues in the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies (ICHS), UAA, assisted in development, implementation, and analysis of the survey instrument. Peter House of the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Program for Healthy Communities led the community-wide goal-setting meeting, assisted by ACRH staff.

A local planning group is a key component of any successful community assessment. The Wrangell Community Planning Group directed the assessment team’s activities and guided the overall project, specifically, ACRH staff worked closely with the Wrangell Planning Group to develop the assessment plan, to develop and disseminate the survey instrument, to carry out focus groups and interviews, and to conduct the community-wide meeting.

For a small town, Wrangell has a good variety of health and social services available for its senior citizens, and most are widely praised. It is the quantity of services that appears to be limited. Coordination of services was also identified as an issue, as was cost. Considering results obtained from the various assessment methods, ACRH staff found that there was substantial agreement in the community about service deficiencies, as well as preferences for new or expanded services.

As is true elsewhere, the senior population of Wrangell is growing and is anticipated to more than double in size in the next twenty years. A large percentage of Wrangell seniors want to stay in the community as they age, and to remain independent for as long as possible. Pressure on existing facilities and services for seniors will increase significantly.

At the same time, seniors bring economic resources to a community (usually in the form of medical insurance and retirement income), as well as provide a depth of knowledge and experience of benefit to all generations. A comprehensive and collaborative strategic planning effort for senior services will be an important step in preparing for the growing demand, and for further integration of seniors into the fabric of the community.