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Audit criticizes city’s services for older adults

Thursday, October 20, 2022 by Jo Clifton

The team from the Austin city auditor’s office scrutinizing services for aging adults found numerous problems with how the city communicates about its programs and lacks a plan for measuring the performance of those programs. Auditor-in-charge Kelsey Thompson reported on the findings to the Council Audit & Finance Committee Wednesday.

According to a survey of community partners, 85 percent of respondents “disagreed or strongly disagreed that it is easy for older adults to find information about city programs and services in one place.” The auditors’ survey also found that the city does not have a clear, consistent, online advertising program for its services for older adults. In addition, 53 percent of survey respondents said the city’s website is not useful in helping older adults locate programs and services.

According to the audit, residents between 65-74 were the fastest growing age group in the city between 2010-2020. Although the city created an action plan to make Austin more age friendly, several departments have their own programs and they operate independently. The city also hired an “age-friendly program coordinator” placed with Austin Public Health; however, that employee lacked the authority to direct the actions of employees in other departments.

The audit found that the action plan did not always clearly assign a department to be responsible for various goals and strategies. Austin Public Health Director Adrienne Sturrup told the committee that the city no longer has an age-friendly program coordinator because the person who had been in that position was promoted to another job in the Civil Rights Office.

She said the city was in the process of looking for a replacement, but it would take another four months to hire a new employee and then that person would have to be on the job for another four months before really being able to coordinate activities.

Auditors recommended that the city rewrite its age-friendly action plan to make sure that efforts are equitable across all groups of older adults. The response from Austin Public Health was that a new action plan would be done by July 2026. Mayor Pro Tem Alison Alter, who chairs the committee, expressed disappointment that it would take so long.

Austin Public Library, the Parks and Recreation Department and the Housing and Planning Department also work with older adults.

Auditors said that city efforts to communicate about programs for older adults did not generally meet the needs of those they are trying to reach. The Library Department, for example, expects newcomers to visit their local branch library to learn about library programs and services.

Auditors noted that the city’s “Commission on Aging conducts an annual survey of older Austin residents. Respondents frequently mention difficulties with accessible transportation and affordable housing. For this audit project, we surveyed community partners that work with the city to provide services to older adults.”

Unsurprisingly, those surveyed reported that the city’s efforts in meeting the needs of older adults as relates to transportation and housing were lacking. On a scale of 1 to 10, the city scored 2.8 in the housing category and 3.4 in the transportation category. Outdoor spaces and buildings got the highest marks at 5.4.

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Photo made available through a Creative Commons license.

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