Aging in Place in Your Rhode Island Community

Published in RINewsToday on May 2, 2022

As the graying of the nation’s population continues, older persons are choosing to live out their remaining years remaining in their communities in their homes, whenever possible. A new just-released study of adults age 50 and older from the AP-NORC Center for Public Research and the SCAN Foundation, finds a majority of older persons would like to age in place and are confident they can access needed services that will allow them to stay at home in their community for as long as possible.  

Gathering Thoughts About Aging in Place

According to this new national study released last week, two-thirds of the respondents think their communities meet their needs for accessing services like health care, grocery stores and social opportunities. The researchers found that all types of health care services are widely perceived as easy to access in their communities, and most feel that local health care understand their needs (79%) and take their concerns seriously (79%).

But, a closer examination of the small proportion of older Americans (Blacks and Hispanics) who feel less prepared and less supported in their community raises concerns about equity in access to the resources necessary to age in place.

However, the study reported that a few respondents say they had a hard time accessing needed services because of communication obstacles like a language barrier (11%), cultural barrier (8%) or age gap (8%); issues with affordability (15%); or issues of respect for their religious (4%) or cultural (3%) background. 

Those in urban areas—and suburban areas especially—describe their communities as having more supports for aging in place than those in rural areas. Older adults in suburban areas see their communities as doing the best job with meeting needs for healthy food, internet access, and the kinds of foods they want to eat. Suburban areas are also seen as better than rural areas in particular at meeting needs for health care and social activities. Older rural Americans are less likely than those living elsewhere to use a range of services simply because they aren’t available in their area. They are less likely to feel that community services are easy to get and designed for people their age than those in urban or suburban communities as well. And they are less likely to think a variety of health care services would be easy for them to access.

Income disparities are also associated with access to critical aging services. Those with incomes of $50,000 and below are less likely than those earning more to have access to services that are in their language (73% vs. 82%), close by or easy to get to (58% vs. 65%), respectful of their religious beliefs (57% vs. 65%), or designed for people their age (53% vs. 63%). When it comes to medical services, they are also less likely to have easy access to dental care, physical therapy, pharmacies, nursing homes, and urgent care than those earning more.

Additionally, those age 65 and older generally feel more prepared and report better access to important community services than those ages 50-64.

Aging in Place in the Ocean State 

For older adults aging in place, in their own homes, is by far the preferred model, says Mary Lou Moran, Director, Pawtucket Division of Senior Services at the Leon Mathieu Senior Center. “In fact, the theme of this year’s federal observance of Older Americans Month “Age My Way” focuses specifically on this very topic. The coordination, accessibility, and connection to services and programs is critical to the successful delivery of services and is where much work needs to be done,” she says. 

Moran says that senior centers located in communities throughout the state deliver needed information and assistance to older adults on accessing the needed  services to age in place.  Social isolation, access to transportation, food and housing insecurity, economic stability, and connectivity to services, are obstacles to enabling a person to stay in the community in their homes, adds Moran.

Over the years, Rhode Island’s inadequate Medicaid rates have become major obstacles to allowing a person to stay at home. However, recent state legislation, H 7616, to recreate a Department of Healthy Aging, spearheaded by Reps Carson, Ruggiero, McLaughlin, Contvriend, Speakman, Ajello and Potter, addresses some of the challenges that service providers are facing when trying to assist individuals to age in place. Moran adds, as the number of older adults continues to grow exponentially, the time has come to fully put the needs of our elders in the fore front to enable them to age with choice, dignity and respect.

According to Maureen Maigret, policy consultant and Chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, “Rhode Island is fortunate to have a number of government-funded programs that help older adults to age in place.” These programs include Meals on Wheels home-delivered meals program; Medicaid home and community services including home care, adult day services; assisted living and self-directed programs; Caregiver respite and support services; Home Modification grants to help make homes accessible; and elder transportation assistance for those age 60+ for medical trips, to get to adult day.  She also mentioned the Office of Healthy Aging’s Home Cost Share program for persons age 65+ and persons underage 65 with dementia who are not Medicaid eligible with income up to 250% of the federal poverty level and the wonderful programs offered at the state’s senior centers.

However, Maigret says that for some of these services such as home care there may be wait lists due to worker shortages. (People can find out about these programs or to find out what benefits they may be entitled to by calling the POINT at 401-462-4444).

There are also private services available for almost any service needed to help people age in place if they have the financial means to pay for them,” says Maigret.  

The National Village to Village Movement Comes to Rhode Island

While some of these volunteer programs in RI may offer some type of services such as transportation, a relatively new initiative has come to Rhode Island. “The Village Common of Rhode Island (TVC) provides a variety of supports through the efforts of almost 200 trained and vetted volunteers,” says Maigret. 

Maigret says that the goal of TVC is to help older persons to stay in their own homes and connected and engaged with their community. “This “neighbor helping neighbor” model started 20 years ago in Beacon Hill Boston and now there are 300 nonprofit “villages” operating across the country. TVC supports include transportation, running errands, home visits and telephone assurance, minor home repairs and light yard work, assistance with technology, and a virtual caregiver support program. A robust weekly calendar offers virtual events, and a monthly newsletter keeps members and guests informed. All this is done with a lean 1.5 person staff, a working board of directors and almost 200 volunteers,” she notes. 

“I had heard about the “village” model some years back and supported efforts to start a “village” in Rhode Island, she says. “It amazes me that a small band of committed volunteers were able to put all the pieces in place to operationalize a “village” and to see what has been accomplished. There are now active “villages” in Providence, Barrington, Edgewood/Cranston and Westerly with almost 300 members and more “villages” are under development. One of the priority goals of the Board is to reach out to underserved neighborhoods in our urban and rural areas to listen to people and find out what is important to them and what type of “village” program might work in their area,” she says. 

“We know that transportation is a huge issue for folks living in our rural areas and that is a huge concern. And, based on findings of the 2021 RI Life Index: Older Adults in Rhode Island(from RI Blue Cross Blue Shield//Brown University School of Public Health), we know that older persons of color living in our core cities have lower perceptions of community life, access to healthcare and experience lower food security and access to technology,” adds Maigret.  

“Research on the fairly new “village” programs shows promise in fostering feelings of being connected to others and suggest older women living alone with some disability most likely to experience improved health, mobility and quality of life (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28509628/.),” says Maigret, noting that this is an important finding as Rhode Island has such a high portion of older adults living alone.

TVC President Anne Connor (74) says she has been a member and volunteer since 2015. “That we are volunteer supported is noteworthy and having an Executive Director, Caroline Gangji, (formerly acting Executive Director at Age Friendly RI), improves our ability to serve our members”, says the retired librarian and paralegal.

As TVC founder Cy O’Neil once said, ” …you don’t create a fire house when the house is burning.”  TVC is more than services – it is the relationships we build that are key to our success, says Connor.  

For details about The Village Common Rhode Island, go to https://www.villagecommonri.org/.

For specifics programs and services offered by the Rhode Island Office of Healthy, go to  https://oha.ri.gov/.  

Calls for Rhode Island to become more “Age Friendly”

Published in RINewsToday on January 24, 2022

On Aug. 3, 2020, The Decade of Healthy Aging 2020-2030 proposal was endorsed by the 73rd World Health Assembly. It was presented to the U.N. General Assembly Dec. 14, 2020, (Resolution 75/131), leading to the proclamation of a U.N. Decade of Healthy Aging (2021-2030).

The four-page Resolution expressed concern that, despite the predictability of population aging and its accelerating pace, the world is not sufficiently prepared to respond to the rights and needs of older people. It acknowledges that the aging of the population impacts our health systems but also many other aspects of society, including labor and financial markets and the demand for goods and services, such as education, housing, long-term care, social protection and information. It thus requires a total whole-of-society approach to make changes.

The passed Resolution called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to lead the implementation of the decade, in collaboration with the other U.N. organizations. Governments, international and regional organizations, civil society, the private sector, academia and the media are urged to actively support the decade’s goals.

According to WHO,  the world’s population is aging at a swifter pace than any time in the past and this will have an impact on all aspects of society.  There are more than 1 billion people aged 60 years or older, most of these individuals living in low- and middle-income countries. “Many do not have access to even the basic resources necessary for a life of meaning and of dignity. Many others confront multiple barriers that prevent their full participation in society,” says WHO.  

In a December 14, 2020, statement announcing the passage of Resolution 75/131, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization, stated that it “sends a clear signal that it is only by working as one, within the United Nations system and with governments, civil society and the private sector that we will be able to not only add years to life, but also life to years.”

“By adopting a U.N.-wide approach in support of healthy aging, we will be able to galvanize international action to improve the lives of older people, their families and communities, both during the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond,” Dr Etienne Krug, Director of the Department of Social Determinants of Health at added World Health Organization (WHO).

The WHO says that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic highlights the seriousness of existing gaps in policies, systems and services and a decade of concerted global action is urgently needed to ensure that older people can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.  

WHO’s worldwide initiatives would seek to change “how we think, feel and act toward age and aging; facilitate the ability of older people to participate in and contribute to their communities and society; deliver integrated care and primary health services that are responsive to the needs of the individual; and provide access to long-term care for older people who need it.” 

Healthy Aging Baseline Data Released

Just days ago, WHO released, “Decade of Healthy Ageing: Baseline Report,” in all official U.N. languages, to support member states, academia, civil society, U.N. partners and others to aid in evidence-based decision making on the policies, programmes and services needed to support all people, in particular older persons, to live long and healthy lives.

The Baseline report, released January 20, 2021, brings together data available for measuring healthy aging, defined by WHO as “the process of developing and maintaining the functional ability that enables well-being in older age.”

According to WHO, optimizing “functional ability” is the goal of the Decade of Healthy Aging, which began in 2021 and addresses five interrelated abilities that all older people should enjoy:  the ability to meet basic needs; to continue to learn and make decisions; to be mobile; to build and maintain relationships; and to contribute to society. The report also takes a look at people’s capacities (including physical and mental) and the environments (spanning attitudes, services, natural and built) in which people live, which contribute to functional ability.

The 203-page baseline report, now available in Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish, introduces the concepts of health aging and strategies for achieving the initiatives goals by 2030. It provides a first-time baseline (in 2020) for healthy aging worldwide and takes a look at what improvements that can be made by 2030.  It documents progress and scenarios for improvement. The report addresses how stakeholders can work together and impact the functional abilities of older people. Finally, it outlines next steps detailing opportunities that can increase collaboration and impact by 2023, the next reporting period.

Is Rhode Island Becoming Age Friendly?   

Maureen Maigret, policy consultant and chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council, says that many Rhode Island communities are involved to 1 degree or another in what we consider age-friendly activities. “The initiative is usually led by the local senior center and in some instances volunteer programs such as RSVP and AARP and The Village Common of RI,” she says.

According to Maigret, over the last five years the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council Aging (LTCCC) in Community Subcommittee has adopted and continues to work to support WHO’s decadelong initiative, adding the domains of Food & Nutrition and Economic Security and Supports to Remain at Home.

Maigret noted that Newport was the first community to join the AARP age-friendly network; Cranston, Providence and Westerly following. The state’s Office of Healthy Aging has adopted its State Plan on Aging, calling for Rhode Island to become an age-friendly state.

Governor Dan McKee’s proposed budget for FY2023 includes an additional $200,000 for local senior programs increasing the total amount to $1 million. Maigret calls for adding an additional  $800,000 so each municipality would be allocated $10 per person aged 65 and over to support local senior programs. Advocates had promoted this since at least 2018 to make up for prior budget cuts and inflation, she says.

Don’t forget improving and expanding the state’s transportation options for older Rhode Islanders who have mobility needs and are no longer able to drive. “This could be accomplished by adding trip types to the state funded Elderly Transportation Program,” she says, noting that trips are now limited for trips to medical appointments, adult day care services, meal sites and Insight. Why not provide trips for older adults to access volunteer activities, she adds.

“We also need to adequately fund our subsidized home care programs by providing realistic reimbursement to address the huge workforce challenges we face,” warns Maigret, noting that seniors are waiting over two months to get service. “This is a travesty,” she says.

“It is tragic that the state’s Office of Healthy Aging is so under resourced in so many areas,” says Maigret, putting the spotlight on the lack of affordable home maintenance and chore services to keep people in their homes. “There is also a need to provide greater supports for our family caregivers who provide the vast majority of caregiving in our state and nation,” she adds. 

Getting Municipalities Involved

Maigret suggests that Rhode Island’s cities and towns review their community’s Comprehensive Plans to see how age-friendliness is addressed. “This is what Newport did. They can also form local Steering Committees to identify local needs and develop recommendations to address them both at the local and state level,” she says.

Governor Dan McKee can also issue an Executive Order directing all state departments and agencies to review programs and policies for age-friendliness and provide incentive funding for local communities to assess their communities. Several states have done this. NY, MA, CO, FL, MI, ME, CA, she says. 

While aging advocates pushed for McKee and lawmakers to allocate ARPA COVID-19 federal funds to make Rhode Island a more age friendly, it’s gotten little attention, says West Warwick resident Vin Marzullo. “Quite frankly its shocking — that there is yet an explicit acknowledgement that the aging community needs resources, support, more collaborative arrangements, to extend living in-place. There seems not to be any sensitivity to the fact that 90% of the COVID deaths were adults 60 and over – and 53% were in congregate care,” says Marzullo, a  well-known aging advocate who served as a federal civil rights and national service administrator.

“The ARPA funds were authorized to be used to ameliorate the impact on the populations, communities, sectors, etc. that were adversely impacted. Our older adults must be in the conversation and not neglected,” says Marzullo.

Maigret agrees. “It is tragic that neither the McKee-Matos’ “Rhode Island 2030 Plan” nor the Rhode Island Foundation report outlining the use of ARPA funds gave sufficient attention to the needs of our state’s older population, she says, warning that this population is increasing, and getting more economically insecure and diverse,” she says.

“When we look at the exceedingly high cost of residential institutional care,  much of which is paid for taxpayers through government programs, we can make a strong case that funding programs helping older persons remain healthy and living in their homes and communities are important investments,” says Maigret. 

To obtain a copy of WHO’s “Decade of Healthy Ageing: Baseline Report,” go to:

https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240017900.