Roy Ancira walks three miles most mornings through the brightly lit corridors of Columbia Center mall.
The 66-year-old West Richland man, who had open-heart surgery in 2007, walks mainly for his health, but also recognizes the social benefits of his jaunts around the mall. He chats with fellow walkers, meets new people and conquers the temptation of a post-walk mocha.
Wellness opportunities for senior citizens here helped rank the Tri-Cities 188 out of 252 small metropolitan markets nationwide in the “Best Cities for Successful Aging” report.
The recently released list is from the California-based Milken Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank.
Broken into age categories, Kennewick-Richland, as it’s called in the report, ranked 172 for seniors ages 65 to 79 and ranked 194 for those ages 80 and older. The Kennewick-Richland statistics include Pasco. The list separately ranked another 100 large metropolitan areas.
The Tri-Cities ranked 222 out of 259 small metro communities analyzed in the Milken Institute’s 2012 report on successful aging, its first.
The Successful Aging report was compiled after almost a year’s worth of information gathering and processing, said Anusuya Chatterjee, a senior economist and associate director of research with the Milken Institute who helped write the report.
It relied on 84 individual indicators spread across eight goal areas to rank the cities. The areas included general, health care, wellness, financial, living arrangements, employment and education, transportation and community engagement.
“This is all public use data,” Chatterjee said, adding that the Milken Institute performed no phone surveys.
The Tri-Cities’ senior population increased from 9.8 percent in 2000 to 10.5 percent in 2010, according to the Tri-Cities Development Council’s website. That figure is expected to jump to 12.3 percent in 2016.
The Tri-Cities’ 2014 wellness rating of 85.5 almost was four points higher than the national average of 81.9.
Of the eight goal areas considered, however, wellness marked the only category where the Tri-Cities out-ranked the small metropolitan market averages. Kennewick Mayor Steve Young said he was “deeply concerned” with the report’s results, which ranked the Tri-Cities 230th in health care and 197th in living arrangements.
“I had never seen these numbers before, and I think what the city of Kennewick and the Tri-Cities needs to do is come together and look at this report,” Young said.
The region scored lowest in the health care category, notching a 29.4 compared with the national average of 42.5. The report noted a lack of Alzheimer’s units, hospice services and long-term hospitals in the area.
“We obviously don’t have a good handle on Alzheimer’s,” Young said. “There are a number of areas we need to focus on.”
Young said Trios Health and Kadlec recognize the need for long-term hospitals and improved geriatric care, and he said those are among the issues he wants to address.
“It’s in my nature to get aggressive when I see something that makes me uncomfortable,” Young said.
Young was the only Tri-City mayor to sign the Successful Aging report’s “Mayor’s Pledge,” which commits city leaders to enhance aging lives and provide its older residents with more opportunities to contribute to their communities. Young is considering having Kennewick’s Blue Ribbon Committee address senior living in the future.
Despite Kennewick-Richland’s low health care rating, Ancira said the quality of care he received before and after his open-heart surgery in 2007 was superb. Ancira previously sought treatment in Sunnyside, where he lived before moving to the Tri-Cities in 2005, and said he felt ignored by the staff. He said Kadlec Regional Medical Center doctors recognized a problem right away and began addressing it during his hospital visit.
“The hospitals, the clinics here — they’re all very good,” Ancira said. “They pay attention to you in the Tri-Cities.”
He’s become more health conscious and now walks almost daily — at the mall during the winter and around his neighborhood during warm months.
“As everyone knows, walking is good for you,” Ancira said. “Walking is very good for you, and it’s a (fitness) test.”
Retirement communities often offer residents services that might be lacking or are less than ideal in cities. Hawthorne Court general manager Ray Francis said the Kennewick retirement community offers its residents bus and town car transportation services, a category where Kennewick-Richland scored just below the national average.
“Pretty much anywhere they want to go, we provide for that,” Francis said.
Hawthorne Court also has taken steps to better involve its male residents, who make up 25 percent of its community, in social activities. Kennewick-Richland scored a 51.4 in the community indicator, below the national average of 54.2.
Hawthorne Court holds a “men’s club” once a month, where male residents and staff participate in activities like visiting a local pool hall, touring a brewery or the Hanford B Reactor, listening to guest speakers and holding arts and crafts events.
“That, to me, is pretty huge,” Francis said. “I don’t know of another retirement community that does that for their men.”
With an estimated 80 million baby boomers closing in on retirement age, Francis said Hawthorne Court also is integrating more technology into its resident programs. Residents have access to a Nintendo Wii and a computer program that aids memory. He said desktop computers are being replaced with iPads.
“With the boomers coming in, I think you’re going to see a lot more technology coming into our community,” Francis said.
Kennewick-Richland ranked high in the employment growth indicator, where it finished fourth. Kennewick-Richland also scored well in small-business growth as well as employment growth in the health, education, leisure and hospitality industries, ranking fifth and 13th, respectively.
Iowa City, Iowa, was named the best small metropolitan market in the nation, landing in the top 10 in the health care and transportation and convenience indexes. Madison, Wis., was the top-ranked large metropolitan area. It scored top-10 rankings in the health care, community engagement and employment and education indexes. Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro ranked 34th among large metro areas, while Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue came in 48th.
The rankings are not intended to measure a community’s livability, Chatterjee said, but instead to show cities what they’re doing well and what they can improve.
“That was the main idea — we are providing (cities) with the data — now it is time for them to take it to the next level,” Chatterjee said.