Move to make Ocala, Marion County ‘age-friendly’ met with hesitation by commissioners

A presentation to make Ocala and Marion County age-friendly communities was met with hesitation by commissioners from the Marion County Commission and Ocala City Council on Tuesday.

During Tuesday’s Marion County Commission Meeting, Jennifer Martinez, executive director of Marion Senior Services, presented commissioners with a new opportunity for the city and county to be classified as age-friendly communities.

“An age-friendly community encourages active aging by optimizing opportunities for health, participation and security in order to enhance quality of life for people of all ages,” explained Martinez.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), an age-friendly community creates policies, services and structures, both physically and socially, that support and enable older people to live in security, enjoy good health and continue to participate fully in society.

“Active aging depends on a variety of influences or determinants that surround individuals and families. Currently, our policies for aging and health are often uncoordinated, fragmented or nonexistent. To create effective policies for all ages, especially older adults, leaders need clear guidance and tools on what works based on the best available evidence,” explained Martinez.

Although the program is international, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) has charged itself with bringing the age-friendly initiative to the United States.

Currently, only four states are engaged in age-friendly classifications, with Florida having joined the initiative as of two weeks ago, according to Martinez.

Marion County Commission Chairman Michelle Stone had questions about some of the language associated with the classification and its benefits to the county.

Stone indicated that she had cause for hesitation as a result of the association with the “international world order,” suggesting that she wasn’t in agreement with the phrase “government must provide” and “universal healthcare” in these types of classifications.

“I think it is a great designation, but before we make our final decision, I would like some details of how it does benefit us and to what opportunities it does bring us,” explained Stone.

“It will open up funding streams. Once we become age-friendly, we’ll be able to apply for grants and funding because of the fact that we are an age-friendly city,” replied Martinez.

When pressed for specific examples of funding provided to other communities, Martinez assured commissioners that she would provide them with additional data before relaying that Sarasota County, which is the first county to be reclassified as age-friendly in the state of Florida, has received thousands of dollars in grants.

“I want to be careful of what we are obligating ourselves to,” said Stone.

“We’re going to be the first in the state to apply as a city and a county together as one entity. Nobody else in the state of Florida has done that. We’ll be the first in the state and also the third in the nation” stated Martinez.

“I would like us to be first, but when I see universal healthcare is a must and what government must provide, I have to step back,” explained Stone.

After her morning presentation to the Marion County Commission, Martinez’s afternoon presentation to the Ocala City Council focused more on government obligations.

“There is no requirement from government to include any policy or program in their action plan. This morning when I approached the county commission, there were concerns that they are affiliated with the World Health Organization, so they requested a workshop between the city and the county,” said Martinez.

“In my two conversations with [City Manager] Zobler and Mayor Guinn, I’ve researched this for two years and been putting this together and we’re already doing a lot of this,” added Martinez, of the age-friendly requirements.

“All that I’m trying to do is put a pretty red bow on it and try and be recognized on a state, national, and international level,” Martinez said.

Martinez went on to explain that the WHO would only collect data for best practices, stating that there was “no mandate” or regulations, and that the county and city would not have to answer to the organization in any capacity.

Ultimately, both the city council and county commission agreed to a workshop to learn more about the age-friendly community requirements and the process.