Members of the Baltimore City Council voted Tuesday to advance an ordinance that would create an independent agency devoted to assessing the needs of the city’s older adult population and helping to connect them with services.

The Mayor’s Office of Aging also would be tasked with educating the public about programs and services in the city that are available to older adults, according to a draft of the ordinance. It would focus on topics such as income maintenance, public health, mental health, housing, employment, education, recreation and rehabilitation services.

Members of the City Council’s Economic and Community Development Committee voted to advance the ordinance with amendments, meaning it will go before the rest of the council for another reading. All committee members voted in favor of the ordinance, with the exception of one absent member.

Sponsored by City Councilman Zeke Cohen and City Council Vice President Sharon Green Middleton, the bill also would allow for the creation of the Baltimore City Commission on Aging to assist the Office of Aging. It would, in effect, repeal the existing Commission on Aging and Retirement, which was established in 1966 to address problems among Baltimore’s seniors, according to a bill synopsis. Also known as C.A.R.E., the commission currently falls under the Baltimore City Health Department and has 24 members.

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Baltimore’s fiscal year 2024 budget, finalized earlier this month, set aside $500,000 to help create an Office of Aging, which specifically would support people age 65 and older, according to budget records. The budget includes funding for an executive director and planning grant.

At Tuesday’s hearing, members of the committee said an independent office would help city elders age in place with dignity. Cohen and Middleton recognized their colleague, former City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, as instrumental to the bill’s design.

Clarke, who testified in favor of the bill, said the current commission on aging had been winning national recognition for its work before being merged with the health department in 2011. The health department, she said, kept it going even in spite of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Health Department has made it possible to begin renewing the City’s praise and celebration of our elders and to focus on addressing the continuum of need and opportunity of the aging process itself,” Clarke wrote in written testimony.

Also testifying in favor of the bill, Dr. Mattan Schuchman, a geriatrician at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, said the needs of elders in the city go beyond just health care. They include planning and housing, social services, personal care and finance, he said.

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According to a first draft of the ordinance, at least four of the commission members would be required to be over 65 years of age and two would represent the “pre-retirement” aspects of the commission’s work. In general, the body would review and propose improvements to existing city programs, research and recommend new initiatives, and identify possible funding sources for the city to tap.

The initial draft also proposes that current health department employees who focus on aging and care services would be transferred to the new mayor’s office, but representatives from the health agency said late Tuesday night that there will be no such transfer of employees.

This story has been updated to correct the spelling of former City Councilmember Mary Pat Clarke's name.

Hallie Miller covers housing for The Baltimore Banner. She's previously covered city and regional services, business and health at both The Banner and The Baltimore Sun.

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