Advocates on aging issues review their priorities for Gov. McKee’s policy agenda

Published in RINewsToday on Nov. 14, 2022

Over 3 months ago, the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island (SACRI) invited the six Gubernatorial candidates to give the details of their aging policy positions to hundreds gathering at East Providence High School, and watching virtually. With the dust settling after the Nov. 8 midterm elections, aging advocates are asking the winner, Gov. Dan McKee, to place a high priority on enacting aging policies that he supported during SACRI’s 143-minute forum.

McKee goes on the record

McKee addressed the issue that Rhode Island nursing home and home care providers can’t provide sufficient and sustainable wages to attract and retain workers because of low state reimbursement. When questioned about how he would rebuild and sustain a viable workforce to provide services to seniors and persons with disabilities, the Governor stated he has addressed staffing issues at home health agencies and nursing homes by expanding the Wavemaker Fellowships to include healthcare workers and increasing reimbursement rates for home health agencies by $900,000 annually.

More seniors prefer to age in place at home in their community rather then enter nursing homes. McKee gave his thoughts about Medicaid rebalancing and expanding the program to keep seniors at home. He touted the $10 million invested this year to rebalance the long-term care continuum, announcing his plans to soon issue an Executive Order to direct state agencies to review existing policies through

At the forum, McKee stated he will also direct all state agencies to appoint a representative to a task force, also including municipalities and community-based nonprofits, that will create a Statewide Aging Plan to determine where federal monies and grants can be utilized to support older Rhode Islanders.

During the mid-1990s the Department of Elderly Affairs (DEA) had a staff of 65. Demoted to the Office of Healthy Aging within the state’s Department of Health and Human Services, Gov. McKee went on record that he will support legislation next year to make the state’s Office of Healthy Aging a full cabinet department. He pledged to provide an adequate budget and staffing to oversee its programs and services to Rhode Island’s growing senior population.   

Gov. McKee also supported a yearly cost-of-living increase to the state Supplemental Security Income payment in the 2024 proposed budget. He also supported the increasing of eligibility for the Medicaid Savings Programs for seniors and people with disabilities in the proposed 2024 budget by eliminating the asset test and increasing eligibility to at least 185% Federal Policy Level. 

With the state passing $250 million in funding for housing, Gov. McKee agreed to provide an adequate amount to support senior housing.  He stated: “we’re off and running”, noting that he recently announced an investment of $80 million to construct 825 units in 17 communities.  The Governor noted that his 2030 plan speaks specifically on the issue of senior housing.

Make aging policy a priority

“With the growing needs of seniors throughout the country and within our state it is time to return to a function of government which “had teeth” to enact change for elders who were at risk,” says Bob Robillard, LMHC, President of Rhode Island Senior Center Directors Association, representing 34 Senior Centers, noting that his aging group is pushing for the passage of bipartisan legislation next session that will elevate the Office of Healthy Aging to a full department – cabinet – status. 

According to Robillard, having a seat at the table as a cabinet position, the Director would directly advocate with the Governor’s Office to address unmet needs and seek creative solutions for our seniors. 

Robillard also urged the Governor to continue efforts to develop secure and affordable housing that meets the need for increased  homelessness of Rhode Island seniors. ”Their income level and having to make difficult choices to survive each month is seen in our interactions with seniors every day, and they are increasingly utilizing food banks, emergency services, and our centers, and funding these basic services needs to be a top priority,” he says.

While some federal funds have been used to address this issue, Robillard says there is a “global need for a full and comprehensive Aging Plan for Rhode Island including the voices of direct service providers like the Senior Centers, senior advocates, caregivers and, of course, seniors, themselves.” 

Finally, Robillard believes that there should be a strong focus on transportation for seniors to access their community. “Safe, respectful and person-centered transportation in our rural areas throughout our state needs to be a focus,” he says, noting that if you cannot access your community in these ways then you cannot participate in them either.

With Rhode Island experiencing a critical shortage of homecare workers, Maureen Maigret, chair of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s Aging in Community Subcommittee, calls on Gov. McKee to provide funding in the FY2024 budget to increase wages for CNAs working in home care. “The current budget includes $10 million to rebalance long term care. These funds should be used for wage increases for homecare direct care staff as an initial step to bring these invaluable workers fair wages,” says Maigret.

“It is also important to provide more resources to the Office of Healthy Aging and support for local senior services. Governor McKee started to increase funds for local aging services in the current budget and the Office of Healthy Aging has requested funding to provide each community ten dollars per person aged sixty-five and over next year,” adds Maigret, urging the Governor to include this in the budget he presents to the legislature for FY2024 as well as other funding requested by the Office including $.5million to support the state’s Aging and Disability Resource Center known as THE POINT. 

Gerontologist Deb Burton calls for the Governor to move forward to pass an Olmstead Plan to create opportunities for individuals to live in the least restrictive environments. “The Olmstead Plan would fit hand in glove with providing resources for individuals to age in the community, and not in institutions,” says Burton, who serves as Executive Director of RI Elder Info.  

Finally, Vincent Marzullo, well-known aging advocate who served as a federal civil rights and national service administrator, suggests that McKee direct the RI Commission for National/Community Service to identify AmeriCorps (national service) opportunities that would help build capacity and service delivery for our local senior centers and human services offices.  “Their needs have grown considerably during COVID,” says the West Warwick resident.

Editor’s Note: During the COVID weekly press conference time, Gov. Raimondo noted that changes need to be made in how people live in Rhode Island’s nursing homes, both from a communicable disease point of view, and from a humanity point of view. She announced a fund of $5 million to be put aside to support nursing homes transitioning their physical “plants” to be single room – single bathroom accommodations. Since Raimondo left office, there has been acknowledgement that this fund was set aside, but no action taken to address the mandate moving forward.

Returning Veterans Need a Helping Hand from Employers

Published November 30, 2012, Pawtucket Times

When the time came to end his seven month tour of duty in Afghanistan, Michael Cremin envisioned a future with the military.  With his tour of duty now behind him, this Staff Sergeant in the United State Marine Corps Reserves had well-laid out plans to re-enlist and become a full-time Marine.  The ambitious Quincy, Massachusetts resident did the calculations – he would first reenlist, then attend Officer Candidate School and ultimately become a Marine Corps Officer.   However, in a New York second, at the age of 32, this reservist was dealt a harsh blow that left dreams shattered forever.

Last April, Cremin entered a medical facility to treat a nagging back problem that  doctors diagnosed as being caused by the strenuous work endured over those months of  active combat – jumping in and out of military convoy vehicles carrying either heavy gear or injured Marines away to safety from blown up vehicles.    He welcomed the responsibility and at a relatively young age, was charged with overseeing convoys of over 90 vehicles carrying over 100 military personnel, whose mission was to bring needed food, parts, and fuel from Camp Leather Neck, Afghanistan to the various forward operating bases. However, heavy pain caused by three bad disks resulting in nerve disorders would medically-drum Cremin out of military service.  “This medical problem will affect me for the rest of my life,” he said.

Being medically retired was bittersweet for Cremin.  He loved being a Marine but his back injuries would be exacerbated if he stayed in the military.   His doctor’s would later say,  that he might have difficulty moving as he aged and the effects would be life-altering. On the other hand, being officially retired has many benefits, specifically for his 27 year old wife, Carol, an administrator for a staffing agency, who would now be eligible to receive health benefits for life.

Military in His Blood

In 1986 at the age 6, Cremin immigrated to America from Cork City, Ireland with his mother and younger brother to join their father, who had left Ireland earlier to come to the United States to escape an economic recession at home.  For the father, America offered promise and hope with a better way to support a family. With the family together, both parents would ultimately work 90 hours a week to keep their family together.

As a young child, Cremin had always wanted to join the Marines.  He recalls as a youngster, the first poster on his bedroom wall was a Marine recruiting poster, instead rather than the typical sports teams poster you might expect to see.

“Why not be a Marine?,”  he asked.  Military service spanned generations in Cremin’s family tree, stretching to his grandfather’s enlistment in the Irish army early in the century.  Uncles would serve under the United Nation’s flag in Lebanon, Cyprus, the Congo and even Yugoslavia.

In 2003, during Operation Iraqi Freedom, Cremin would enlist in his beloved Marine Corps.  For all active duty recruits who lived east of the Mississippi, the young Marine’s basic training took place at Parris Island, South Carolina.  This would be followed by combat training in at Camp Lejuene, North Carolina where he was then sent to Amphibious Assault School, Camp Pendleton in California.

Until 2007 Cremin would be stationed in 29 Palms, California in the hot Mojave Desert.  From the West coast military base, he would be deployed for a 9 month tour in Iraq, serve on the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit on amphibious LSD for ten months and take a 10 month tour of South East Asia.  Leaving active duty in 2007 he returned to Quincy, Massachusetts, where he would take care of family business.  Missing the ‘esprit de corps’ of belonging to the Marine Corps, he would reenlist in the reserves in less than 1 year, which would bring him back to war in Afghanistan in 2011.

The New Year Brings Retirement

Over his decade long military career, Cremin has also found time to volunteer in the community.   When he was stationed in California, he began to do volunteer work in the Marine Corps’ “Toys for Tots” initiative.  In 2010 he decided to step forward to volunteer running the state’s Toys for Toys initiative. When he came back to the east coast after his Afghanistan tour, he would again volunteer to take the reins and oversee Rhode Island’s efforts to collect toys for the needy OceanState children.

Two weeks ago, Cremin officially found out that he would was being retired from the Marine Corps, and his retirement would come at the beginning of 2013. Before this last combat tour, his Associate Degree in Criminal Justice that he earned at QuincyCollege might just have been a stepping stone to a law enforcement career if he was not to stay in the military.   However, his current medical disability would reduce the probability that he could enter that career. Not knowing where he will ultimately live, or work, makes it difficult for Cremin to choose a University to complete his bachelor’s degree.

“Things are up in the air now,” Cremin says, noting that with the economic downturn in Rhode Island, the young war veteran is not sure where he will ultimately end up. Five of his fellow Marines volunteering their time to work on this toy collection project, all who were injured in Afghanistan, will also be looking for work, too.  .

But for now, before he joins the rank and file of unemployed veterans with his five fellow Marines, he will concentrate on overseeing the completion of this year’s Toy’s for Tot’s Campaign. It keeps his mind off the uncertainly of not knowing where his next pay check will come from. “I really don’t want to think about the future.”

Reaching Out to Unemployed Veteran

           According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment rate for all Veterans nationwide fell to 6.3 percent last month —well below the national employment average of 7.9 percent.  However, for post-9/11 veterans, America’s newest veterans, the rate reached 10 percent.

However, “the picture is even worse in the Ocean State”, notes Consultant Dan Cahill.  “In our work we found the unemployment rate among veterans was higher than the general population,” says Cahill, who coauthored a report released in November 2011, entitled Initial Needs Assessment and AmeriCorps State Service Plan.  Funded by Serve Rhode Island, Cahill noted that issues of unemployment are predominant in the veteran population between 35 to 54 years of age. “Approximately 13 percent of veterans in this group are unemployed, compared with a 9 percent unemployment rate among non-veterans in this cohort,” he says.

Cremin and the growing number of unemployed Rhode Island veterans now can turn to a Department of Defense (DOD) program that will assist these individual’s find work.

According to Rebecca Sanderson, Rhode Island’s  H2H Hero to Hire                  Employment Transition Coordinator, this program unveiled in 2011, offers valuable resources for military veterans members by way of hiring fairs, job training, career assessment and military skills translation.  With more than 400 Hiring Our Heroes job fair events, Sanderson noted that one was recently held in the Ocean State to assist current service members, retirees and veterans find civilian jobs.

Sanderson stated that 64 employers came to CCRI in Warwick, on November 9, 2012, to meet the 176 job seekers who attend this event. During the day, company’s received 526 resumes with 103 interviews being conducted.  Seventeen job offers were made that day, she noted.

“We expect more job offers to be made by companies who attended the job fair as they sort through the resumes they collected and finish their interview process of the participants,” says Sanderson. Rhode Island usually hosts two Hirer Our Heroes (HoH) job fairs per year, one in the fall and one in the spring. (Information on these job fairs, including dates and locations can be found by following the links for live hiring fairs on www.H2H.jobs,  the organization’s website).  “At this internet site employers can post jobs, and service members, post resumes and make a job connection,” she says.

One of the biggest challenges that veterans face in finding jobs after returning from active military service involves the translating of their military skills into terms that civilian employers will understand, says Sanderson.  “Service members return with many “soft” skills such as leadership, problem solving, and team work, but may not have the training in the “hard” skills the employers are looking for,” she says.

Sanderson continues to work hard toward creating better networking opportunities that will allow military veterans from active duty and reservists to better interact with employers to break down barriers to communication which will allow businesses to better recognize the value of those who have served in the nation’s military.

Hopefully, Rhode Island companies will see the value of hiring Cremin, a war veteran who could bring his military leadership skills, problem-solving and expertise in organizing large scale events, to their operation.

Veterans fought  for our nation’s freedom.  May be its time for employers to give them a break, by easing them into civilian life and giving them decent employment.  If this happens, everyone becomes a winner.

For more info about the H2H Program, contact Rebecca Sanderson, Employment Transition Coordinator at 401 275-4359; Rebecca.Sanderson@us.army.mil.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, medical and health care issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.