Tele-Town Hall Gets the Word Out About COVID-19

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 3, 2020

This week alone, AARP in some 30 states conducted tele-town halls and 123 state calls have taken place since the pandemic surfaced. AARP Rhode Island, representing 132,000 members age 50 and over, was among the very first states to address the pandemic in a tele-town hall over two weeks ago.

At the AARP Tele-Town Hall, held Wednesday, April 22, during the 56-minute live event, state officials came to answer questions about how to cope with the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and how seniors can protect their health and stay safe. AARP Rhode Island’s John Martin, Communication Director, served as host and the panel of experts featured Office of Healthy Aging (OHA) Director Rosamaria Amoros Jones and Rhode Island Department of Health Medical Director Jim McDonald.

“We had 3,050 participants and, at one time, 974 people were on at the same time,” says Martin, who hosted the call. “We took 18 live calls in 55 minutes and, unfortunately had close to 20 people waiting to speak when time expired,” he adds, noting that it was AARP Rhode Island’s largest tele-town hall audience ever.

According to Martin, “Our in-call interactive poll revealed that nearly three quarters of those who cast votes were most interested in local resources and information on how to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, About a quarter said they were looking for help caring for family and loved ones, and information on insurance.”

Adds AARP State Director Kathleen Connell, “We were extraordinary pleased with the response to the tele-town hall,” who said she expects more statewide calls. “Just as important, however, is our virtual engagement with members and especially our volunteers. We are getting used to communicating online because that is where all of our ‘personal’ contact will be taking place, at least in the next few months — and that will include video conferencing, which we are testing now. We are impressed at how eager people 50 and older are ready to master the technology and join in.”

State Officials Talk COVID-19

“We are at a point where we are starting to see the benefits of our collective efforts of [maintaining] physical distancing, states OHA Director Jones. It is flattening the curb where the peak number of people requiring care at a time is reduced and the health care system is not overwhelmed, she says.

“It is really important for us that social or physical distancing as we also refer to it does not equal social isolation,” says Jones, noting that innovative approaches can keep people engaged with each other during this time of physical distancing.

Jones also gave a plug for Project Hello (http://oha.ri.gov/get-involved/volunteering/), a program that matches older adults with someone in the community for regular chats and for mutual support. “We’re in it for the long haul and it is going to take all of us working together neighbors helping neighbors,” she says.

“Effective quarantine and isolation efforts are critical today,” says Jones. “Our focus is on making it as easy and as comfortable as possible right now to stay home as we ready ourselves for the new normal that is on the other side of the pandemic,” she adds.

Jones called for those in quarantine and self-isolation reach out to Shopping Angels (www.facebook.com/shoppingangelsinc/) for assistance in personal shopping.

One caller expressed strong concern about Governor Gina Raimondo’s comment that people over age 60, at greater risk of severe COVID-19 illness, would be required to stay home for a longer period of time before being allowed to return to work or participate in community activities. “There have been no definitive decisions to implement restrictions at this time,” said Jones trying to reassure the caller.

Although there are programs and services detailed on the internet that can assist older Rhode Islanders to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, one caller asked how these could be accessed without a laptop, computer or smart phone. Jones noted that The Point (http://oha.ri.gov/get-help/), operated by United Way Rhode Island and linked through 211 or by dialing (401) 462-4444, could provide information, referrals to needed programs and services.

How would people age 60 and over be protected against age discrimination when the governor is stating that it might take a longer time for these individuals to return to work? asked a caller. “It’s something we are thinking a lot about and a lot more [will] come as we talk about what the new normal is going to look like as we come through the peak of the pandemic, says Jones, stressing that age discrimination would not be tolerated.

Jones called for listeners to visit NextDoor.com, a website that promotes volunteer opportunities (including the delivery of groceries for seniors and those in quarantine), to see how they could help those impacted by COVID-19. For those seeking information about housing, Jones recommended a site, RI Havens, that provides a listing of hotels with affordable room rates for front line workers and for those persons stranded because of the virus and might need a safe place to stay. Details about food delivery options and food assistance programs can be found at the site, RI Delivers, that connects those in quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19 with opportunities to have food delivered by local and big-box grocery stores.

One caller asked Dr. James McDonald, Medical Director at RI Department of Health (DOH), about how a person could improve their immunity to assist them to successfully combat COVID-19. “You can’t always control the virus but you can control yourself,” says McDonald, stressing the importance of eating a healthy diet, regularly exercising and losing weight are actions to take to improving your health.

Making COVID-19 Transparent in Rhode Island’s Nursing Homes

During the Tele-Town Hall, McDonald was asked a question, “Why can’t the Health Department provide a list of long-term care and assisted living facilities that will show the number of patients/residents who have tested positive for COVID-19 and the number of facilities.” Twenty-four hours later this list appeared on the DOH Coronavirus Data Hub. (https://ri-department-of-health-covid-19-data-rihealth.hub.arcgis.com/).

McDonald noted that this particular virus has been so effective in causing the pandemic because it takes so long for a person to show symptoms and that other people who have it sometimes spread the virus before they even have symptoms and they don’t even know they should isolate because they don’t feel ill. It becomes important for a person to wear a mask when going outside to stop the spread of the virus, he says.

MacDonald says that it is highly unlikely to catch COVID-19 by touching grocery bags placed on your porch or through picking up a letter or package. He suggests constantly using hand sanitizer and washing your hands before and after picking up items touched by others.

AARP has created a special web page, http://www.aarp.org/RICOVID for coronavirus information and resources,” says AARP Rhode Island’s Martin added. “There you will find information about our ‘Community Connections’ program, aimed at combating isolation and loneliness, and a direct link to http://www.aarp.org/coronovirus, where all of AARP’s resources can be found.

Caregivers Can Take Advantage of Free Credit Freeze Law

Published in the Woonsocket Call on October 14, 2018

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin touts a new federal consumer protection law, signed into law by President Donald Trump on May 24, 2018, that protects seniors from becoming victims of financial exploitation. Rhode Island’s Attorney General says that this law enhances Rhode Island’s law prohibiting credit reporting agencies from charging fees for credit freezes,(also referred to as a security freeze).

With enactment of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, all consumers can now freeze and unfreeze their credit file for free for one year. Before this new law, fees were assessed, usually costing from $3 to $10 (though some states were free) to restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for others to open new accounts in another person’s name.

The new law lets people with certain legal authority to act on someone else’s behalf to freeze and unfreeze their credit file. It defines a “protected consumer” as an incapacitated person, someone with an appointed guardian or conservator, or a child under the age of 16. In addition, it extends the duration of a fraud alert on a consumer’s credit report from 90 days to one year. A fraud alert requires businesses that check a consumer’s credit to get the consumer’s approval before opening a new account.

“Many instances of financial exploitation include a person opening up credit cards or using the credit file of another for personal gain and identity theft. This added layer of protection will allow a guardian or financial caregiver the ability better safeguard the older person from being taken advantage of by a stranger or even someone they know and thought they could trust,”says Kilmartin.

To place a credit freeze on their accounts, consumers will need to contact all three nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you’re acting on behalf of a protected consumer, you must give the credit reporting agencies proof of authority before you can freeze and unfreeze the protected consumer’s credit. Proof of authority includes: a court order (such as an order naming you guardian or conservator; a valid power of attorney, and proof of your identity, which can be a Social Security card, birth certificate, driver’s license or other government issued identification.

Whether consumers ask for a freeze online or by phone, the credit bureau must put the freeze in place within one business day. When consumers request to lift the freeze by phone or online, the credit bureaus must take that action within one hour. (If consumers make these requests by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days).
To place a fraud alert, consumers need only contact one of the three credit bureaus, which will notify the other two bureaus.

Rhode Island’s Credit Freeze Law

Filed at the request of Kilmartin and enacted earlier this year, the Rhode Island law eliminates a provision of existing state law that allows reporting agencies to charge up to $10 to consumers who ask for a credit freeze.

The legislation, which the sponsors introduced on behalf of Rhode Island Attorney General Kilmartin, stems from the Equifax security breach last year during which the credit information of 143 million Americans was exposed. Initially, Equifax was charging consumers who asked for a credit freeze to protect themselves from its own security breach, although it stopped after intense public outcry and pressure from numerous attorneys general.

At the time the law was enacted, Kilmartin said, “This is a big victory for Rhode Island consumers, giving them greater control over who can access their personal and financial information. Credit bureaus make money from selling our personal information to third parties. They should not be able to profit off consumers who decide to take control over who has access to their personal data.”

Protecting Rhode Island’s Seniors

“AARP applauds all efforts to protect older Rhode Islanders from phone and online credit scams that lead to identity theft,” says AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Clearly, many consumers, and especially many of Rhode Island’s 134,000 caregivers, will consider taking advantage of this new option. It certainly complements the work we are doing as part of AARP Fraud Watch to thwart con artists who prey relentlessly on people of all ages.

“In the case of older Rhode Islanders, life savings can be at risk. “The new federal law allows caregivers to acquire legal authority to freeze a loved one’s credit reports, and that’s a good thing. But it is important to note that there are many things a caregiver should consider. Basically, caregivers need to have conversations about the threat and what everyone should be doing to protect against credit theft,” she added.

AARP’s John Martin said when he presents the Fraud Watch program to community groups he urges people to think about fraud prevention in the same way training and professional development is part of their work experience. “In the workplace, your job includes being up to speed on the latest policies, regulations and best practices,” Martin tells audiences. “Lawyers read law reviews, doctors read medical journals, tugboat captains read The Shipping News. Failure to do so could lead to a missed opportunity or a big mistake. Given the enormous threats out there, we all should consider keeping up on the latest scams and implementing precautions something like a part-time job that requires similar diligence. To do otherwise increases your risk and the stakes are frighteningly high.”

Connell warns not to forget the basics. “AARP provides common-sense advice, awareness and precautions as well as alerts when new scams are exposed or an old one reappears,” she says. “Don’t be passive and please do encourage older family members to be on guard. We are all in this together.”

Anyone can sign up for the free Fraud Watch Network service at http://www.aarp.org/RIFraudwatch to receive alerts and report scams or other suspicious activity.

Reporting Financial Exploitation

The Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General recommends that if you believe you or an older relative are victims of financial exploitation, contact your local police department, the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs, or the Elder Abuse Unit at the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General.

If you would like an investigator at the Elder Abuse Unit or an investigator with the Consumer Protection Unit to speak with your organization on the signs of elder abuse or how to protect from being a victim of a scam, please contact Mickaela Driscoll, Elder Abuse Investigator, at mdriscoll@riag.ri.gov or Martha Crippen, Director of the Consumer Protection Unit, at mcrippen@riag.ri.gov or by calling 401-274-4400.

The First of the Generation Xers Starting (Gulp) to hit the Big 50

Published in the Woonsocket Call on January 10, 2016

With the New Year’s celebration on January 1, the first of America’s 62 million Generation Xers are on AARP’s radar screen as potential members. These individuals have hit a demographic milestone, turning age 50 this year.  Now, it’s time for the generation that is following the Baby Boomers, to begin thinking about their later years and what resources they will need if they are thrust into the role of caregiver for their parents and grandparents.

Demographers says that Generation Xers (born between 1965 and 1979) is the middle generation, sandwiched between Baby Boomers and Millennials.  “As they grow older, it is important to acknowledge that they are having a different experience than their cohorts, and that they are more than just an unsung demographic who wore parachute pants and acid wash jeans,” says a recent AARP press statement, announcing the first arrival of this generation into their fifth decade.

The First Vanguard of Gen Xer’s Turn 50

AARP notes in 2015, 4.4 million Gen Xers hit the big-5-0.  This year another 4.1 million are expected to join the ranks of Americans over age 50, notes AARP, predicting that this generation will take on the role of challenging “outdated perceptions of aging and empower people to take control of their futures”

“AARP is excited to welcome Generation X to the 50-plus community and be a resource for them as they embrace their age and live the life that they want,” said Sami Hassanyeh, AARP Chief Digital Officer. “They face different challenges and have different goals than their predecessors, and deserve every opportunity to explore the possibilities that lie ahead.”

According to the Washington, D.C.-based AARP, the nation’s largest aging organization, Generation Xers carry far more fiscal responsibilities than previous generations have or even the next one, the Millennial Generation.  Now, in their 40s and 50s, this generation is financially supporting their children while being caregivers for their aging parents.  With life expectancy increasing Generation Xers must continue working to pay the bills, but like the aging baby boomers must rethink the concept of growing old and where they will put their time and energy in retirement.

“Though Generation Xers feel less financially secure than their parents in regards to retirement, they also plan to work longer and embrace new opportunities in this evolving life phase. Most people turning 50 today can expect to live another 30-plus years, and many are already taking steps towards increasing their longevity – 87% consider themselves in good health and 55% maintain a healthy diet. They are re-imagining this life transition and expect their future years to be more flexible and rewarding than ever before,” says the AARP statement.

Key Generation Xer’s Metrics

AARP Research provides a snap shoot the Generation Xers (www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2015/generation-x-snapshots.html?cmp=RDRCT-GNXNST_DEC08_015).  As to diversity: sixty percent are white; 18 percent Hispanic/Latino; 12 percent are African and 7 percent Asian.  Most are married (64%) but one in five (19%) have never married.  Fifty percent of Generation Xers have children age 18 years or younger living at home while 67 percent of this generation have children of any age living at home.  This generation is well-educated with 35 percent receiving a Bachelor’s degree or higher (35%). Twenty seven percent have some college education.  The median income of this generation is $70,501.

Fifty six percent of this generation feels overwhelmed with financial burden (carrying an average debt of $111,000). Fifty five percent use the internet for on-line banking.

But, when thinking about retirement, 35 percent are confident they will have enough income to live the life they envision in retirement.  But, few Generation Xers are confident Medicare (34%) and Social Security (24%) will be available to them like it is for those currently receiving the retirement checks.

Looking at health, Generation Xers say that “the number one element for a good life is good health.”  They take responsibility for maintaining their health and well- being, too. Eighty six percent of this generation has health insurance.  Seventy two percent say that they trust their physicians the most for health information.

“From my perspective, this age group entering our membership demographic signals an opportunity for AARP to build our relevance in the lower end of the 50+ population,” said John Martin, Director of Communications at AARP Rhode Island. “When I meet these folks I get excited because more likely than not, they have been connected to the Internet for some time and are up to speed when it comes to technology and social media.

Time is on Their Side

“Generation X, the research shows, is quite forward-looking – as well as motivated — when it comes to working and living in one’s 50s with an eye toward health & fitness, retirement planning and having a say in making sure one’s community is heading in the right direction. The good news for Generation X, I would say, is that time is on their side. They can make changes during the final 15-20 years of their work life that will make everything after much better. So, when they embrace online resources and I can keep them current via email on issues relevant to the road ahead it is very exciting,” Martin added.

“I am pleasantly surprised when I meet people across Rhode Island who declare ‘now that I’m 50’ it’s time to join AARP. To me, what they are saying is that they get it,  that membership represents a transition that is all about fulfilling their aspirations and building confidence that they will live out their lives with independence and dignity.”

AARP is no longer the membership organization for just the Greatest Generation (1900 to 1924), the Silent Generation (1925 to 1944) and Baby Boomers (1946 to 1964). It is fr Gen Xers (1965 to 1984), too, especially if they want to take control of the quality of life they will experience in their retirement years and beyond.

For more information about AARP, go to AARP.org.