Published in Pawtucket Times, December 5, 2015
It seems that aging advocates will have many celebrations to attend throughout 2015. This year is the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security. Last July, the White House announced the scheduling this summer of the White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA). This once-in-a-decade is an opportunity to recognize the importance of these key federal programs as well as to look ahead to the issues that will help shape the quality of life for older Americans for the next decade.
With Nora Super named as the Conference’s new Executive Director in July combined with its website up and running in October, planning for the event is gearing up.
A Look Back
The first White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) was held in 1961, with following conferences in 1971, 1981, 1995, and 2005. Over the past 40 years, professionals in the aging network have viewed these decennial conferences to be catalysts for development of aging policy. The conferences generated ideas and ultimately political momentum to establish or make significant improvements to many of the nation’s domestic programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Acts and even to Social Security.
The four-day 2005 WHCoA was geared to provide the nation’s73 million baby boomers plan for their decades in retirement. That year, Pre-WHOCoA Forums (listening, solutions and mini conferences) were held around the country, to develop proposed solutions to the challenges of aging and the Main Conference itself, ultimately resulted in 73 resolutions with 50 of them being presented to the president and Congress.
Ten years ago, Governors of all 50 States, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia and the Territories, Members of the 109th Congress, the National Congress of American Indians and the Policy Committee, selected 1,200 bipartisan delegates. At press time, delegate selection details have not been announced. But, like previous Conferences, I expect that incoming Governor, Gina Raimondo, to have some slots to appoint. Stay tuned.
In the past, processes for the five conferences were created by federal statute with the form and structure directed by Congressional lawmakers through legislation authorizing the Older Americans Act. To date, a deeply divided Congress has not reauthorized this program, and the pending bill does not include a statutory requirement or framework for the 2015 conference.
WHCoA organizers say that without a Congressionally defined framework, the White House begins to plans, still strongly committed to hosting a White House Conference on Aging in 2015. The American public will be engaged and involved in developing the conference, they say, by utilizing technology, by using web tools and social media, can encourage the nation’s Baby Boomers and seniors to participate.
Super Takes the Reins
Nora Super, the executive director of the upcoming WHCoA, says on the event’s website, “the coming months will be a time for us to engage in a dialogue and build a shared vision on how to continue to maximize the contributions of Americans as we age, and how to advance priorities such as healthy aging, a secure retirement, accessing the services and supports older Americans need to remain in their communities, and protecting older Americans from financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect.”
Super, who has over 20 years working in the federal government, and a lobbyist for AARP and represented Kaiser Permanente’s eight regional Permanente Medical Groups, believes, “The White House Conference on Aging represents an important step in working to ensure that Americans throughout the lifespan have the opportunity to learn and develop skills, engage in productive work, make choices about their daily lives, and participate fully in community life.”
According to Super, “the Conference is designed to assist the public and private sectors to be responsive to the needs of a diverse aging population and to promote the dignity and independence of and expand opportunities for current and future generations of older persons and their families.”
Listening session, beginning last July that will continue up to and during the Conference, have produced some common themes, including: retirement security; healthy aging; long-term services and supports to help older adults remain in their communities; and preventing financial exploitation, abuse, and neglect of older adults.
A Call for Participation
Sign up to receive regular updates and emails to stay informed. You will learn more about the planned WHCoA listening sessions, regional forums, webinars and opportunities for public engagement. Provide your thoughts as to what’s most important to you and your ideas for actions that can help to improve the lives of older Americans.
Don’t sit on the sidelines. Bring your comments to the table, especially share personal stories and life experiences about your aging, either from the frame of reference as an older adult or caregiver. Give your thoughts about the different federal programs that have enhanced the quality of your life or those family members, friends, and neighbors around you.
Last October, the WHCoA website, http://www.WhiteHouseConferenceOnAging.gov, was launched as a way to engage the public about aging issues. It provides regular updates on Conference activities, more important it serves as a way to easily provide your comments and input.
This columnist, writing for McKnight’s LTC News, one of the oldest trade publications covering the long-term care sector, covered the 1995 WHCoA for the prestigious publication. As a journalist it was an exciting assignment, to report on a national Conference that brought together aging advocates, long-term care providers, academicians, and researchers. This synergy ultimately would create formal resolutions to be shared with President William Clinton and Congress as to how to direct the nation’s resources and federal programs to better serve older Americans.
Summer 2015 kicks off the WHCoA. Hopefully, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo, the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs and RI AARP will be in the forefront to gather comments from Rhode Island’s Aging Baby Boomers and Seniors about aging issues and problems that impact them. Rhode Islanders must be at the table and have a voice at the nation’s most important aging conference.
Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.