A few years back, the West Central Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission studied the area’s population trends. Not surprisingly, the Chippewa Valley is no different than the rest of the nation: Our society is aging — and fast.

A look at the data drives that point home. From 1980 to 2000, the median age of Chippewa County residents rose from 27.1 to 37.6. That’s a startling figure and was easily the biggest jump among the seven west-central Wisconsin counties in the study. Dunn and Eau Claire counties had the lowest median ages in the region — largely because of students at the University of Wisconsin-Stout and UW-Eau Claire — and increased at about half the rate of Chippewa County.

Experts who look at such things see these aging patterns continuing unabated. A study by the Wisconsin Department of Administration predicts more than 20-percent population growth in all three Chippewa Valley counties over another 20-year span, with the number of people 65 and older doubling within 30 years.

“Everybody’s talking about what the population is going to look like in 2035, but it’s happening now,” said Jessica Barrickman, Chippewa County’s Aging & Disability Resource Center manager. She was referring to a jaw-dropping 19-percent increase in people 60 and older in the county within just the past three years.

Life expectancy among Wisconsinites is expected to climb from 77.3 to 81.5 years for men and from 82 to 85.7 for women, and much of that credit goes to improvements in our health care system.

These improvements — whether major surgery at a hospital or routine care at a clinic — are something previous generations weren’t afforded. And these advances are now found at big and small providers alike.

It has been a few years since the Chippewa Valley Business Report last took an in-depth look at the Chippewa Valley’s medical landscape. Previously we documented the wide variety of top-level medical care at our disposal, which is part of what makes this region such a great place to get sick.

This area’s health care options are the certainly the envy of others, but rather than revisit that particular topic, we chose to examine a handful of other areas this time around.

Many businesses have good reasons to devote attention to the health of their employees, and many have offered wellness incentives, such as discounts on health club memberships and employee-assistance programs. Our story lays out why wellness is getting so much attention.

We also look at the many employment opportunities in the health care field and examine which jobs offer the best prospects. Another story gives examples of alternative medicine. And we cast a glance to the La Crosse area to see how that region has become a national leader in getting people to put down in writing their wishes for end-of-life care.

We hope you enjoy our latest issue of the Chippewa Valley Business Report.

Ross Evavold is editor/general manager of the Chippewa Herald, and editor of the Chippewa Valley Business Report.

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