General Assembly: It’s Time to Endorse State Alzheimer’s Plan

Published in the Woonsocket Call on May 12, 2019

Just days ago, the Alzheimer’s Association-Rhode Island Chapter, along with over 75 volunteers and supporters gathered for the group’s Advocacy Day, in the Governor’s statehouse at the Rhode Island State, warning state lawmakers about the increasing incidence in Alzheimer’s disease and its impending impact on state programs and services. According to the Alzheimer’s Association 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts & Figures report, there are now 23,000 people living with Alzheimer’s and 53,000 Alzheimer’s caregivers in Rhode Island. This number will skyrocket as Rhode Island’s population continues to age; they say.

During the two-hour rally, Alzheimer’s advocates pushed for the passage of H 5569, sponsored by Rep. Mia Ackerman (D-Cumberland), and S 310, Sen. Cynthia A. Coyne (D-Barrington), companion measures that would legislatively endorse the newly released State Alzheimer’s Plan.

House Majority Leader Joseph Shekarchi also joined in, calling for passage of H. 5189, his legislative proposal that would create a program under the Department of Health and an advisory council to oversee implementation of programming, requiring training for medical professionals, and establishing Alzheimer’s plans in medical facilities. the Senate companion measure is S 223.

Improving Supports for Those Afflicted with Alzheimer’s

Once the Rhode Island General Assembly passes the legislative proposals to endorses the State Alzheimer’s Plan, the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s executive board would seek legislative and regulatory changes to carry out its bold set of recommendations for improving supports to those afflicted by Alzheimer’s and other dementias. But this legislation is stalled.
Twenty-three town meetings,45 expert interviews, combined with a survey of 200 Rhode Islanders impacted by Alzheimer’s, enabled Columbia, Maryland-based Splaine Consulting, a nationally recognized health policy firm, to pull together the content for the State Alzheimer’s Plan. More than 30 recommendations are detailed in this 35-page plan to combat the devastating mental disorder which calls for the implementation of three main recommendations.

The updated State Plan provides Rhode Island with the framework to cooperatively address the full range of issues surrounding Alzheimer’s and other dementias. It will be the blueprint that allows us to take unified, targeted action against the disease, says Lieutenant Governor Daniel McKee McKee, who serves as chair of the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council (LTCCC).

McKee’s LTCCC served as the organizational umbrella for a workgroup, including the Alzheimer’s Association– Rhode Island Chapter, the state’s Division of Elderly Affairs, researchers, advocates, clinicians and caregivers oversaw the development of the newly released State Plan.

“Our updated plan will also position the state, local small businesses and nonprofits to take advantage of federal and other funding opportunities aimed at fighting Alzheimer’s disease,” says McKee.

“Unless we move quickly to address this crisis and find better treatments for those who have it, these costs will grow swiftly in lock step with the numbers of those affected, and Alzheimer’s will increasingly overwhelm our health care system. We must decisively address this epidemic,” says Donna M. McGowan, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association–Rhode Island Chapter, who came to the May 7 news conference on Smith Hill to put Alzheimer’s on the General Assembly’s policy radar screen.

Taking Bold Actions to Confront Alzheimer’s Epidemic

“State government must address the challenges the disease poses and take bold action to confront this crisis now. Alzheimer’s is a growing crisis for our families and the economy. That’s why we are unrelenting advocates for public policy that advances research and improves access to care and support services,” says McGowan.

“Alzheimer’s disease and its impact on society is not only a growing public health concern, it very well may be the next biggest public health emergency that we as policymakers need to address,” said Rep. Ackerman. “We’ve already begun crafting legislation that will establish a program in Rhode Island to address the disease,” she says.

Rep. Ackerman used the Alzheimer’s news conference as a bully pulpit, calling on hospitals, researchers, medical professionals, state agencies, and state law makers to act swiftly to address the looming public health crisis.

“There are many factors to be considered in the great work ahead of us,” Rep. Ackerman said. “From early detection and diagnosis, to building a workforce capable of handling the unique health care needs of Alzheimer’s patients. This is something that will take a lot of effort and a lot of time. Now is the time to get to work on this,” she notes.

Like Rep. Ackerman, Sen. Coyne called for the General Assembly to endorse the State Alzheimer’s Plan and also supported Shekarchi’s legislative proposal, too. She also promoted a bill that she put in the legislative hopper that would allow spouses to live with their partners in Alzheimer’s special care units. Allowing couples to live together would help maintain patients’ relationships, connections and personal dignity, she said.

Rose Amoros Jones, Director of the Division of Elderly Affairs(DEA), noted that the power to the Alzheimer’s Association – Rhode Island Chapter’s Advocacy Day creates connections to people that can influence policy and shine light on the supports and information that families need. “Connection is a core value at DEA – as is choice, she said.

Sharing personal stories, Melody Drnach, a caregiver residing in Jamestown, talked about the challenges of taking care of her father with dementia. From her personal caregiving experiences, she agrees with the updated plans assessment that Rhode Island is dramatically under-resourced to address today’s needs.

Marc Archambault of South Kingstown, who has been diagnosed with the disease, came, too, talking about his efforts to cope with the devastating disorder.

At press time, both Rep. Shekarchi and Rep. Ackerman’s Alzheimer’s proposals have been heard at the committee level and have been held for further study, some call legislative purgatory.

Alzheimer’s Impacts Almost Everyone

The devastating impact of Alzheimer’s may well touch everyone in Rhode Island, the nation’s smallest state. Everyone knows someone who either has Alzheimer’s or dementia or is a care giver to these individuals. It’s time for the Rhode Island General Assembly to endorse the State’s Alzheimer’s Plan especially with no fiscal cost. We need a battle plan now more than ever to effectively deploy the state’s resources to provide better programs and services to those in need and to support caregivers.

Call your state representatives and Senators and urge that H 5569 and S 310 are passed and sent to Governor Gina Raimondo to be signed. For contact information, call Eric Creamer, Director of Public Policy and Media Relations, Alzheimer’s Association – Rhode Island Chapter, (401) 859-2334. Or email ercreamer@alz.org.

New Report Puts Spotlight on the Devastating impact of Alzheimer’s

Published by Woonsocket Call on March 10, 2019

It’s hot off the press. Last Tuesday, the Chicago-based Alzheimer’s Association announced the release of its long-awaited 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures. The 90-page report is chock full of national and state specific statistics and again puts a spotlight on Alzheimer’s disease, often referred to as the nation’s silent epidemic. Every 65 seconds someone in the United States develops the devastating cognitive disorder. This year, an estimated 5.8 million Americans of all ages are living with Alzheimer’s and related dementia. This number includes an estimated 5.6 million people age 65 and older and approximately 200,000 individuals under age 65 who have younger-onset Alzheimer’s.

Painting a Picture of Alzheimer’s Impact

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, the annual report, first released in 2007, is a compilation of state and national specific statistics and information detailing the impact of Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias on individuals, families, state and federal government and the nation’s health care system. For the third consecutive year, total payments to care for individuals with Alzheimer’s or other dementias is skyrocketing, say the report’s authors. In 2018, these costs were estimated to be over $ 277 billion. This year’s costs are expected to surpass $290 billion, an increase of nearly $13 billion from last year’s figure, according to data gleaned from the latest Facts and Figure report.

Yes, the 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report is a must read for congressional staff, state lawmakers, and federal and state officials.

New findings from the report released on March 5, 2019 reveal the growing burden on 16. million caregivers providing 18.5 billion hours of care valued at over $ 234 billion to 5.8 million people with cognitive disorders. By 2050, the new Alzheimer’s Association report projects that the number of persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias will rise to nearly 14 million, with the total cost of care reaching over $1.1 trillion.

Between 2000 and 2017, the number of deaths from Alzheimer’s disease as recorded on death certificates has more than doubled, increasing 145 percent, while the number of deaths from the number one cause of death (heart disease) decreased 9 percent, says the new data in the 2019 Facts and Figures report. Alzheimer’s disease kills more than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.

The latest Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report notes that 83 percent of care provided to the nation’s older adults comes from unpaid caregivers. Specifically, about one in three caregivers (34 percent) is age 65 or older. Approximately two-third are woman. Over one-third of dementia caregivers are daughters, one quarter of these individuals also care for children under age 18. Most caregivers (66 percent) live with the person with dementia in the community.

Of the total lifetime cost of caring for persons with Alzheimer’s and other dementias, 70 percent of these expenses are borne by families, either by out-of-pocket or from the value of unpaid care,” says the Alzheimer’s report.

Taking a Look at Cognitive Assessments

Although the 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures provides the latest national stats on Alzheimer’s prevalence, incidence, mortality, costs of care, and impact on caregivers, it also takes a close look at awareness, attitudes, and utilization of brief cognitive assessments (obtained by asking questions, observations, input from family and friends, or short verbal or written tests given in a clinical setting), among seniors age 65 and older and primary care physicians.

Although an evaluation of cognitive functioning is a required component of the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit, the report’s findings show that only 1 in 3 seniors are aware these visits should include this assessment.

“While it’s encouraging to see that the vast majority of seniors and physicians understand the value of brief cognitive assessments, we’re still seeing a significant gap in those that actually pursue, perform or discuss these assessments during routine exams,” said Joanne Pike, Dr.P.H., chief program officer for the Alzheimer’s Association in a statement released with this report. “Early detection of cognitive decline offers numerous medical, social, emotional, financial and planning benefits, but these can only be achieved by having a conversation with doctors about any thinking or memory concerns and through routine cognitive assessments.,” says Pike.

While the Alzheimer’s report noted that 82 percent of seniors and 94 percent of physicians believe it is important to have their thinking and memory checked, the findings indicated that just 16 percent of the senior respondents say they receive regular cognitive assessments for memory or thinking issues during routine health checkups, compared with blood pressure (91 percent), cholesterol (83 percent), vaccinations (80 percent), hearing or vision (73 percent), diabetes (66 percent) and cancer (61 percent).

The report’s authors also found a very “troubling disconnect” between seniors and their primary care physicians regarding who they believe is responsible for initiating these cognitive assessments and silence from seniors in discussing their concerns.

According to the report’s nearly all physicians said the decision to assess patients for cognitive impairment is driven, in part, by reports of symptoms or requests from patients, family members and caregivers. Those who choose not to assess cognition cited a lack of symptoms or complaints from a patient (68 percent), lack of time during a patient visit (58 percent) and patient resistance (57 percent) as primary factors.

In addition, the Alzheimer’s report says most physicians welcome more information about assessments, including which tools to use (96 percent), guidance on next steps when cognitive problems are indicated (94 percent) and finally steps for implementing assessments efficiently into practice (91 percent).

The Alzheimer’s Association is working to help educate physicians on best practices for conducting brief cognitive assessments and to ensure that all seniors understand what to expect from an assessment, as well as how to navigate an Alzheimer’s diagnosis and care planning when needed,” said Pike. “As the number of individuals living with Alzheimer’s continues to increase, we need to detect the disease early and give individuals the best opportunity to plan for the future,” she says.

The survey found that while 51 percent of the older respondents are aware of changes in their cognitive abilities — including changes in their ability to think, understand or remember — only 40 percent have ever discussed these concerns with a health care provider, and fewer than 15 percent report ever having brought up cognitive concerns on their own.

Instead, 93 percent of the senior survey respondents say they trust their primary care physician to cognitive testing for thinking or memory problems if needed. Yet, 47 percent of these physicians say it is their standard protocol to assess all patients age 65 and older for cognitive impairment. But, only 26 percent of the senior’s report having a physician ever ask them if they have any concerns about their cognitive function without them bringing it up first.

“The findings indicate there are missed opportunities for seniors to discuss cognitive concerns and problems in the exam room,” said Pike. “We hope the report will encourage seniors and physicians both to be more proactive in discussing cognitive health during the Medicare Annual Wellness Visit and other routine exams,” she says.

Combating Alzheimer’s in the Ocean State

On the heels of the release of Rhode Island’s updated State Plan on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders by Lt. Governor Dan McKee on February 26th, the released 2019 Facts and Figures reinforces the need to implement the recommendations of the State Plan.

“These facts and figures truly demonstrate the public health crisis we are in both nationally and here in Rhode Island with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Donna M. McGowan, Executive Director with the Alzheimer’s Association Rhode Island Chapter. “We are projecting cases of the disease to increase by 17% in this state by 2025. Having this data helps us to understand the scope of the issue and what we need to do to address peoples’ needs long term.”

“With Medicaid costs rising almost 23% to care for someone with Alzheimer’s, caregivers and families need to be provided resources that they need. Our updated State Plan helps to provide the framework to address some of those concerns,” said McGowan. “I commend our state lawmakers for recognizing how deeply Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders affects our citizens here and for their support in trying to address it with legislation.”

Andrea Palagi, Director of Communications for Lt. Governor Dan McKee, says that there are several Alzheimer’s-related bills being consider by state law makers this year. “It’s the year for Alzheimer’s” she says.

With the newly released 2019 Alzheimer’s Disease Facts and Figures report we hopefully won’t see the state’s updated Alzheimer’s Plan sitting on a bureaucrat’s dusty book shelf.

 For a copy, go to www.alz.org/media/Documents/alzheimers-facts-and-figures-2019-r.pdf.

 

Splaine Consulting Gears Up to Update State’s Alzheimer’s Plan

Published in Woonsocket Call on July 8, 2018

With the securing of a total of $30,000 in grants, Lt. Governor Dan McKee officially begins Rhode Island’s effort to update its state’s five-year plan on Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders to combat the rapidly increasing incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

When announcing the successful fundraising effort, McKee noted that Rhode Island has been in the forefront of Alzheimer’s research. “Each day, we make great strides in expanding clinical trials and innovating treatments. Over the last few years alone, the local landscape of prevention and treatment has changed dramatically and positively. The updated State Plan will be an invaluable tool for local leaders, researchers, physicians, advocates and families as we work together to build the momentum in the fight against Alzheimer’s,” he said.

That day, Donna McGowan, Executive Director of the Alzheimer’s Association, Rhode Island Chapter, warned “We face an emerging crisis with the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease projected to increase to as many as 27,000 Rhode Islanders by 2025. Alzheimer’s disease is a pivotal public health issue that Rhode Island’s policymakers cannot ignore. With the rapidly growing and changing extent of the Alzheimer’s crisis, it is essential that Rhode Island’s State Plan becomes a living document that stakeholders regularly consult and re-evaluate. We will continue to work diligently to ensure that the vision of our state’s Alzheimer’s Disease Plan is translated into actual public policy.”

Consultants Bring Content Expertise to Project

With two $15,000 grants provided by the Rhode Island Foundation and Tufts Health Plan Foundation, the Alzheimer’s Association, Rhode Island Chapter, as fiscal agent, released a request for proposal (RFP) for a consultant who would bring writing skills, expertise in public policy initiatives to provide programs and services to persons with Alzheimer’s disease, to the project.

Five consultants responded to the RFP and after a month long-search and a series of interviews, Michael Splaine and Kate Gordon, of Splaine Consulting, a small advocacy and government affairs consulting firm based in Columbia, Maryland, got the contract. No question, Splaine and Gordon brought the right blend of skills to the project. The consultants have provided content matter expertise to over two dozen State Alzheimer’s Plans.

Immediately prior to starting this company eight years ago, Splaine served as Director of State Government Affairs in the Public Policy Division of the Alzheimer’s Association for over 23 years, leading its grassroots network to accomplish state policy priorities, including persuading states to develop comprehensive state Alzheimer Plans in 2007-2008.

While at the Association he was a staff team member for the Association’s Early Stage Initiative (a program working to promote inclusion and programs for persons with Alzheimer’s.) and provided leadership in the Association on the government affairs aspects of the Healthy Brain Initiative, a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, and Prevention continues this work as a consultant to the Association.

Kate Gordon, who has worked with Splaine for over 18 years, has a reputation for being a skilled health policy analyst and grassroots advocacy strategist. She brings expertise in a diverse range of health and long-term care issues topics, including federal and state policies affecting persons with dementia, caregiver interventions, and direct care worker training. Her previous work includes assisting in the development of the first United States National Alzheimer’s Plan and 18 state government Alzheimer’s disease plans.

Gordon was also awarded the prestigious 2013 HHSinnovates People’s Choice and Secretary’s Choice award winner for “Connecting to Combat Alzheimer’s.”

“Kate and I have worked with every level of government from local to global that is taking on the challenge of Alzheimer’s disease, including regionally and globally with the World Health Organization,” explains Splaine. The company’s long listing of clients includes the Alzheimer’s Association in their public health work with Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Alzheimer’s Disease International, the umbrella organization for over 90 national organizations devoted to persons with dementia, and overtime Splaine Consulting has also worked with the national center on elder abuse, Consumer Voice, Arthritis Foundation to name just a few.

The path that led Splaine Consulting to being chosen to update Rhode Island’s Alzheimer’s Plan may seem ironic to some, says Splaine, because it has most certainly brought him back home. He started his early professional life in the Ocean State, graduating Rhode Island College with a gerontology certificate, even having been married to a native Bristol resident for 41 years.

“My earliest work with people with cognitive impairment included volunteer teaching for Fr. (now Msgr.) Gerry Sabourin who was developing what was then called a special religious ed program and my field placement for Rhode Island College at two different adult day care centers,” says Splaine.

“I am thrilled to welcome Splaine Consulting to our team as we relaunch Rhode Island’s coordinated effort to fight Alzheimer’s disease and provide patients with the highest level of support and care,” said McKee. “Rhode Island is a leader in Alzheimer’s research and treatment but knowing how other states are addressing this devastating disease is essential to our success. Splaine’s experience in crafting other State Plans and their thorough understanding of the national landscape make Michael and Kate valuable partners.”

Combatting the Alzheimer’s Epidemic

The update of the State’s initial five-year Alzheimer’s Plan approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly in 2013, is a collaborative effort of the Rhode Island chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, the Division of Elderly Affairs and the Office of the Lt. Governor. The final plan will provide state lawmakers, municipalities and the state’s health care system with a policy strategy to confront the anticipated Alzheimer’s epidemic. It will also take a look at the current impact of Alzheimer’s disease on a growing number of Rhode Islanders and most importantly, details the steps the state must take (legislatively and regulatory) to improve programs and services for people with Alzheimer’s and their family caregivers.

Once the updated report is completed and approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly, the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s Executive Board will seek legislative and regulatory changes to carry out its recommendations to ensure that it is more than just a document—that it comes to shape the state’s public policies on Alzheimer’s.

The updated report must be completed by October 31, after which there will be a follow up survey to all stakeholders in the process to see “how we did at capturing their ideas,” says Splaine.

Now, Splaine and Gordon begin their analytical review work of reviewing the existing Alzheimer’s Disease Plan, contacting key state agencies for their input, and planning formal interviews over the next 6 weeks with key persons from care, research, academia, and persons with dementia and family caregivers.

Community input is crucial, says Splaine. “Through the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council’s Executive Board under the leadership of the Lt. Governor, caregiver subcommittee we have a survey out [to solicit comments] that will stay open through the end of August that will be available online and offline, he says. Kicking off on August 5 and concluding August 10, 18 community town meetings are scheduled to allow Rhode Islanders to give their thoughts as to what should be included in the updated State Alzheimer’s Plan.

For a schedule of community town meetings visit, ltgov.ri.gov/alz.