As Florida’s elderly population continues to grow, organizations that focus on the long-term care of the state’s seniors are joining forces with state lawmakers to form a new coalition aimed at making the needs of seniors a legislative priority.

It’s estimated that seniors will makeup the majority of Florida’s expected population growth over the next decade, putting a strain on the system designed to care for the elderly.

AARP, the Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) and LeadingAge Florida announced Wednesday in Tallahassee they have formed the Coalition for Silver Solutions. The focus of the group is to develop short- and long- term strategies to meet the health care needs of Florida’s aging population.

“One day soon, we will wake up to a Sunshine State that is grayer than almost anyplace on Earth has ever been – a place where one person in four is 65 or older and more than half of all babies will live to age 100,” said Jeff Johnson, state director of AARP Florida. “We need a smart approach that makes the most efficient use of public resources, ensuring that we have a robust spectrum of care for older Floridians at every life stage.”

Members of the Coalition for Silver Solutions have committed to ensuring sufficient funding for both home-based and long-term care. The coalition vows to retain the $138 million in Medicaid funding authorized by the Legislature last year. And it also pledges to formulate long-term strategies that will prepare Florida as it deals with the state’s large and growing population of seniors.

A recent report released by FHCA shows Florida has jumped from 16th in the nation into the top ten in overall quality. The association says in order to maintain that trend, Florida leaders must continueTo continue to adequately support both home-based care and skilled nursing care for those who need it.

“The Legislature has an opportunity to make a smart decision for Florida’s future by funding nursing centers and home- and community-based services in this year’s budget,” said Marilyn Wood, president and CEO of Opis Senior Services Group, speaking on behalf of FHCA. “At the same time, we need long-term strategies to ensure that our seniors are supported across the full spectrum of care – whether that means they can remain at home with family or community support, or when their needs become too great, our nursing centers step in to help.”

Sen. Ben Albritton, R-Lakeland, and Rep. Rick Roth, R-West Palm Beach joined in support of the coalition. The two lawmakers home counties — Palm Beach and Polk counties — have a combined 518,000 residents age 65 and older. That’s more than the populations of every Florida city but Jacksonville.

The coalition will continue to advocate for the care of the state’s elderly throughout the remainder of this legislative session. The group will then discuss its long-term options and strategy with a Silver Summit to be held late this year, just ahead of the 2020 session.

“We are facing a complex, multifaceted problem and any solution is going to require an equally complex set of responses,” said Steve Bahmer, President/CEO of LeadingAge Florida.

“Seniors who need nursing home care tend to be older and sicker when they arrive at the nursing home than they have been in the past, and they have more complex needs,” Bahmer added. “These issues are not insurmountable if the Legislature puts the money where the mandate is.”