WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — Roughly 3,000 older adults utilize Senior Services of Wichita each year. Chris Heiman, the charity’s development director, says with costs doubling, funds are decreasing or remaining stagnant, and now a mill levy for senior care has reached an all-time low.

“I think for too long, our seniors have had to settle for second best,” Heiman said.

Heiman has worked with Senior Services for the past 15 years. She says funding has tanked in the past decade, which has impacted what services and quality of care seniors can get.

“There isn’t a lot of money to put in new carpeting, or to place new tiles in the ceiling, or even just to buy supplies,” Heiman said. “Creating new programs, creating new events, new opportunities for seniors to stay engaged—that’s a real challenge when there’s no money.”

Heiman says for many seniors she works with, the Northeast Senior Center acts as a literal lifeline—adding five, 10, even 15 more years to their lives compared to those of their peers.

“Isolation is, you’re, like, 10 times as likely to develop Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart disease,” Heiman said.

Heiman says centers, like Northeast, keep seniors out of private long-term care facilities and nursing homes—something Heiman says many Wichita seniors cannot afford.

“That private pay facility is going to cost them between $7,000-$10,000 a month out-of-pocket,” Heiman said.

Heiman says alternative state-funded programs are often more of a burden for seniors and taxpayers.

“They’re typically full because there’s not a lot of placement out there, they may not always be the highest quality of care, and that costs taxpayers $50,000 a year for one placement,” Heiman said.

Taking into account current inflation, and a rapidly aging population in Sedgwick County, Heiman says it’s all the more reason centers, like Northeast, should be properly supported.

“I think we all need to kind of step back and think, ‘what is my life going to look like when I’m that age? What do I want it to look like?'” Heiman said. “We’re all gonna be there one day. What do we want to have when we’re that age? What services do we want that we’ll deem acceptable?”