It is no secret; most Oklahomans prefer to age in place and remain in their home as long as possible.

A recent SoonerPoll survey found that 86% of Oklahomans support legislation to implement alternatives to nursing home care.

Why is this important now? The number of Oklahomans age 85 and older is expected to increase by 26,000 in the next 11 years. This number increases by more than 98,000 over the next 30 years. As Oklahomans age, the demand for long-term care services will soon eclipse our ability to provide them if we fail to reimagine how we live out our final years.

Oklahoma’s budget implications are dire, given that nearly 80% of all nursing home stays are paid for by either Medicare or Medicaid, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Carrying on the way we always have is no longer an option.

The recent legislative session was a banner year for much-needed reform in how care is provided to some of our most frail and vulnerable citizens — our nursing home residents. The Tulsa World highlighted in several articles that Oklahoma ranks among the worst in the nation on several metrics related to nursing home quality of care.

That coverage aided in the passage of two important pieces of legislation. Senate Bill 142 ends the practice of chemically restraining nursing home residents. Senate Bill 280 increases staff and ties payment to providing quality care. These two new laws will be instrumental in efforts to move Oklahoma from the bottom of nursing home quality rankings.

While these two pieces of legislation garnered much of the attention, another equally important bill also passed into law that will serve as the basis for reimagining how we care for Oklahoma’s rapidly aging population. Senate Bill 888, authored by Sen. Kim David and Rep. Carol Bush, implements an innovative process known as options counseling. This provides an unbiased method of informing seniors facing long-term care decisions of all options available to them and their families so they may make truly informed decisions.

Why is this important? The data tell us that following the boom of 85+, we will see a decline in the aged population. Traditional notions of care focus on institutional settings such as assisted living centers and nursing homes. What happens to these facilities after the boom?

SB 888 opens the door to numerous options to age-in-place, a concept that is now more practical than ever thanks to new technologies and devices that allow people to live independently much longer than previous generations could. Smart homes, on-demand service providers and transportation, age-friendly concepts and a host of other innovations can create a home suitable to live in regardless of age or physical ability. Combine that with increased access to adult day services, home health, telehealth and age-friendly communities, and you can envision how rethinking aging services can be a true win-win for our state and our aging population.

SB 888 provides the framework to truly innovate the service delivery model of long-term care and fully empower our citizens to choose when and where they receive services. These transformative shifts in how long-term care can be delivered not only greatly improve quality of life but also preserve an individual’s financial assets while saving taxpayers substantial sums of money.

SB 888 tasks the Oklahoma Department of Human Services with the implementation of its provisions. This provides the agency an exciting opportunity to continue the path of innovating eldercare and ensures that Oklahoma is embracing rapidly emerging trends that favor independence and self-determination over institutionalization.

Oklahoma is well-positioned to be a leader in caring for our state’s most valued citizens, and I am encouraged at the opportunity for us to rise to the occasion.

Joe Ann Vermillion, AARP Oklahoma state volunteer president, lives in McAlester.

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