The Boston White House Conference on Aging Regional Forum, held on May 28, 2015, was the fifth and last in a series of 2015 White House Conference on Aging regional forums. These regional forums were co-sponsored by AARP and were planned in coordination with the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, a coalition of more than 70 of the nation’s leading organizations serving older Americans.
Over 200 older adults, caregivers, advocates, community leaders, and experts in the field of aging attended the Boston Regional Forum. The forum featured remarks by U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren; U.S. Congressman Stephen Lynch (MA-8); Nancy LeaMond, Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer and Executive Vice President of AARP’s State and National Group; and Ira Jackson, Dean of the John W. McCormack Graduate School of Public Policy, University of Massachusetts/Boston.
U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS)Secretary Sylvia Mathews Burwell delivered the keynote address. Secretary Burwell noted the fiftieth anniversaries of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act and highlighted the need to support healthy living at every age. She also announced the launch of the Million Hearts Cardiovascular Risk Reduction Model, a unique opportunity for health care providers to decrease cardiovascular disease risk for tens of thousands of Medicare beneficiaries by assessing an individual patient’s risks for heart attack or stroke and working with them to reduce those risks. This effort is a new component of the Million Hearts Initiative, an HHS effort aimed at preventing a million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Secretary Burwell’s remarks were followed by Therese McMillan, Acting Administrator of the Federal Transit Administration. Acting Administrator McMillan discussed the importance of affordable transportation options; she explored the link between transportation and health, noting the need to make strategic investments in transit that can help improve people’s access to healthcare at all stages of life.
The forum included two moderated panels. Kathy Greenlee, Administrator of the HHS Administration for Community Living and Assistant Secretary for Aging moderated the first panel, which examined the themes of elder justice and retirement security. Panelists included: Surya Kolluri, Managing Director, Policy and Market Planning, Bank of America Global Wealth and Retirement Solutions; Judith Shaw, Securities Administrator, State of Maine Office of Securities; John Friedman, Associate Professor of Economics, Brown University; and Brigitte Madrian, Aetna Professor of Public Policy and Corporate Management, Harvard Kennedy School. The panelists emphasized the possibilities for developing better systems of referral for elder abuse cases and explored the linkage between both financial and health planning. They reviewed some of the challenges that Americans face with regard to retirement savings and proposed options to improve current savings mechanisms.
Lisa Ryerson, President, AARP Foundation President, moderated the second panel, which explored the topics of healthy aging and long-term services and supports. Panelists included: Jewel Mullen, Commissioner, Connecticut Department of Public Health and President, Association of State and Territorial Health Officials; Robert Schreiber, Medical Director, Hebrew Senior Life, Healthy Living Center of Excellence, Harvard Medical School; Ellen Flaherty, Co-Director, Dartmouth Centers for Health and Aging, Geisel School of Medicine; and Jeanette Takamura, Dean, Columbia School of Social Work. The panelists looked at the advancement of policies and systems that enable older adults to age well, focusing on the necessity for supports and services that help individuals maintain and enhance their health. Panelists also discussed health disparities, rural aging, and the importance of culturally competent approaches to care.
In the afternoon’s breakout sessions, attendees discussed each of the four topic areas that are the focus of this year’s conference -- healthy aging, long-term services and supports, elder justice, and retirement security -- and identified their top priorities or challenges, and proposed solutions related to the issues.
The Healthy Aging breakout group debated the definitions of “senior,” “elderly,” “old,” and “frail.” Participants felt strongly that what 50-70 year olds need to do to lead healthy, active lives is dramatically different from what the frail elderly need to do. Therefore, the conclusion was that older adults are not one homogenous group, and policies and programs should address the diversity of aging needs. They agreed that age -friendly communities should be created to foster engagement within the community. The long-term services and supports breakout session’s priorities focused on consumer choices in accessing quality medical and social services resources. Additionally, the participants agreed that workforce development was a priority.
The Elder Justice breakout session also had a lively debate about how to bring the issues of elder justice to the forefront of national conversations. Some felt strongly that funding for the Elder Justice Act and reauthorization of the Older Americans Act were the top priorities. Others felt that public awareness of the prevalence of elder abuse was necessary to increase funding and programs. The Retirement Security breakout session concluded that the term “retirement security” was too limited in scope, and advocated instead for economic security across the lifespan by increasing the minimum wage. Additionally, the participants advocated for preserving, strengthening, and expanding Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Older Americans Act protections.
Participants came together for a concluding session, where they shared summaries about each breakout session and expressed their additional comments and concerns. These ideas and suggestions will inform the White House Conference on Aging’s work going forward.
The forum was also available by webcast, and communities were encouraged to host local viewing sessions, facilitate discussion, and submit feedback to the White House Conference on Aging website.
If you were not able to view the live webcast, a recording of the Boston forum is available here.
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