The Seattle White House Conference on Aging Regional Forum, held on April 2, 2015, was the third 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 Seattle Regional Forum. The forum featured remarks by U.S. Senator Patty Murray, who was introduced by a local Alzheimer’s prevention advocate Myriam Marquez; U.S. Congressman Jim McDermott (WA-7); U.S. Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (WA-1); Dow Constantine, King County Executive; Virginia Reno, Deputy Commissioner for Retirement and Disability Policy at the U.S. Social Security Administration; Susan Johnson, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Regional Director; and Jo Ann Jenkins, CEO, AARP.
U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez delivered the keynote address and highlighted the Administration’s efforts to ensure that more Americans can enjoy a secure and dignified retirement. Secretary Perez noted the Treasury Department’s launch of myRA (a simple, risk-free, and no-cost savings product targeted at the millions of Americans without access to workplace savings accounts), as well as the Department of Labor’s proposed updated conflict of interest rule, which will require financial advisers to put the best interests of their clients above their own financial interests when providing retirement investment advice. Secretary Perez also expressed his ongoing commitment to address healthcare workforce issues, underscoring the importance of the Olmstead decision to ensure care and treatment in the most integrated setting and highlighting the Department of Labor’s final rule to bring minimum wage and overtime protections to direct care workers.
The forum included two moderated panels. Nora Super, Executive Director of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging, served as moderator of the first panel, which examined the themes of healthy aging and long-term services and supports. Panelists included: Laura Carstensen, Founding Director of the Stanford Center on Longevity; Diane Narasaki, Executive Director of Asian Counseling and Referral Service; Bill Moss, Assistant Secretary for the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services; and Charissa Raynor, Executive Director of the SEIU Healthcare Northwest Training Partnership and Health Benefits Trust. The panelists explored efforts to support care in community-based settings and stressed the importance of investing in the home care workforce. The need for innovative thinking about how to optimize healthy aging, as well as ensure that care is culturally competent and linguistically accessible, was also discussed.
Lisa Marsh Ryerson, President of the AARP Foundation, moderated the second panel, which focused on the topics of elder justice and retirement security. Panelists included: Doug Shadel, Washington State Director, AARP; Page Ulrey, Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney, King County Prosector’s Office; Phyllis Borzi, Assistant Secretary of Labor of the Employee Benefits Security Administration; and Wes Yin, Associate Professor of Public Policy, UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs. The panelists examined the challenges of preventing and prosecuting elder abuse and stressed the critical need for investments in infrastructure, training, and research. Panelists also examined the sources of retirement insecurity and emphasized the need to increase savings opportunities for all Americans.
In the afternoon’s breakout sessions, attendees delved into further conversation about each of the four topic areas that are the focus areas for this year’s Conference -- healthy aging, long-term services and supports, elder justice, and retirement security -- and identified their top priorities, challenges, and proposed solutions related to these issue areas.
Participants at the healthy aging breakout session quickly settled on two issue priorities. Participants supported a culture change in the way society views aging from a deficit to an asset model of aging. Participants were eager to speak about the impact of ageism on their lives and on their desire for greater opportunities for older Americans to impact the greater good. The second priority was enhancing quality of life through access to services for all communities, paying particular attention to cultural and linguistic competency. Participants felt that enhancing the quality of life of older adults involved all services from housing to transportation to social engagement in a culturally responsive manner.
The long term services and supports breakout session focused on financing long term care. Suggestions included creating public and private partnerships to make services more accessible for everyone. Participants also felt strongly about expanding training for both paid and family caregivers in order to serve the growing needs of disabled older adults. The elder justice breakout session was focused on law enforcement, the role of prosecutors, and legally coordinated efforts at identifying elder abuse and developing new and improved ways of enforcing these laws. Their top policy suggestion was to increase education and awareness at the broadest of levels, including a comprehensive national campaign targeting law enforcement, and reporting of abuse by medical, clergy, home health, neighbors, family, and community agencies.
Finally, participants in the retirement security breakout session spoke about the need to strengthen Social Security. Participants repeatedly noted that Social Security’s benefits structure needs to be updated to reflect changes in society (two-earner families, single parents, LGBT). In addition, Social Security’s revenue sources need to be reinforced in order to continue to provide benefits at the promised level and help rebuild public confidence that the system will continue to be there, especially for younger workers. The group also focused on the rising costs of health insurance and long-term care. Finally, the group called for steps to increase real wages across the board as a way to boost savings.
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 Seattle forum is available here.
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