74.9 million people are between the ages of 51 and 69 and they’re not getting younger, or healthier.

Baby boomers — that is, people born between 1946 and 1964 (U.S. Census Bureau classification) — are once again poised on the brink of great challenge and change.  This is true especially in the healthcare industry.

Over the next decade-and-a-half, the number of people who are retired will nearly double. That means that the number of people moving into retirement communities, and requiring more and better access to healthcare, will also increase exponentially.

Additionally, the retirements themselves will cause problems in the healthcare workforce. At a time when more nurses are needed, the American Association of the Colleges of Nursing reports shortages due to both retirement and increased need. The associations cites multiple sources, including a report released by the American Health Care Association in July 2008, which states that more than 19,400 RN vacancies existed in long-term care settings at that time.

So, how to keep up? How to provide the care and the facilities, all while meeting baby boomers’ specific needs over the next decade?

First, public-private partnerships that promote health care jobs.

Due to high costs of care, many New Yorkers retire to smaller cities where healthcare quality is higher. One of such destinations — Lancaster, PA — is home to more than 31 Medicare and Medicaid certified nursing homes, thanks to a partnership between local Pennsylvania College of Health Sciences partnered and High Real Estate Group, LLC. Part of the funding for the project came from the college’s parent company, Lancaster General Health (now LG Health/Penn Medicine.)

The result is a state of the art educational facility, including 3,000 square feet of simulation space, which accommodates 1,500 commuter-students.

As a result, students that graduate will help meet the growing need for healthcare professionals.

Second, improve and expand existing facilities to meet rehabilitation and long-term care needs.  

One of the facilities operated by the Allure Group, the Crown Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation, shows what can be done when time and money are invested properly.

Formerly the Marcus Garvey Residential Rehab Pavilion, a failing nursing home that was placed on an exclusive “watch list” by federal regulators in 2011, the facility was purchased by Allure and converted into a five star facility. One reason for the success is approach Allure took: patient needs first. For instance, the Occupational, Speech and Physical rehab unit is for short-term, intense, therapy that will allow a patient to recover from surgery or injury quickly, and return home to lead the active lives they enjoy.

New technologies, like the innovative AlterG Anti-Gravity Treadmill make it easier to target and treat a variety of physical issues. And the boomers know it! After all, researching treatment and therapies is just a Google search away, and baby boomers are savvy enough to research the best treatments out there.

Finally, make sure the care and services offered meet the expectations of the baby boomers.

Administrators of today’s communities need to think about the whole person: physical, mental and spiritual.

Gone are the days of nothing but pain-meds and tasteless dinners on plastic trays. Baby boomers expect options: fine dining, fast snacks, vegetarian and kosher options.  

Acupuncture and massage therapy? If it’s an option outside the facility, and improves healing and quality of life, it better be available once a patient is in the care of an organization.

This is particularly true for groups that offer continuous care, from independent retirement living to skilled, palliative and hospice care. When a baby boomer chooses to move into a continuing care facility, they are not choosing to wait quietly for “the end.”  They are making a choice about how they will lead their life for their final years. Gyms and personal trainers are increasingly common in retirement communities, as are trips to cultural events and shopping centers. Craft rooms? Yes, those too!  

Just because a baby boomer wants to give up snow shoveling doesn’t mean they want to give up drinking gourmet hot chocolate in front of a fireplace while watching the snow fall and waiting for the shuttle to take them to the movies.

More caregivers; patient-centered care that promotes independence; and a creative, holistic, approach to serving aging baby boomers: these are only three of the big changes that will occur as more than 70 million people ask for the healthcare they deserve in their last decade.