America’s Seniors need House of Reps. to bring back Aging Committee

Published in RINewsToday on July 4, 2022

By Tom Spulak, Bob Weiner and Herb Weiss

With a backdrop of extensive media coverage of the ongoing Ukraine War, the Jan. 6th hearings, and covering the political postering of Republican and Democrats as the midterm elections approach (just 127 days from now), Congressman David Cicilline (D-RI) along with 50 Democratic cosponsors calls on the House of Representatives to pass his legislation, H. Res. 583, that would reestablish the House Select Committee on Aging, (HSCoA) and for Speaker Pelosi and Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern to schedule the necessary consideration in the House Rules Committee to enable floor action.

The Rhode Island Congressman’s effort has caught the attention of a group, including former Congressional staffers, the Leadership Council on Aging Organizations and the Strengthen Social Security Coalition (both representing over 100 million seniors age 50 and over), Execs of national aging groups, the Florida-based Claude Pepper Foundation, and a Rhode Island writer, who see the need to bring the investigative Special Committee back to put the spotlight on a myriad of aging issues that Congress must address.

Every day, 12,000 Americans turn 60. By 2030, nearly 75 million people in the U.S.—or 20 percent of the country—will be age 65 or older. “As America grows older, the need for support and services provided under programs like Social Security, SSI, Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act also increases,” and the need for re-establishing the House Selection Committee on Aging (HSCoA) becomes even more important.

The last two years have proven particularly difficult for older adults in our country as the coronavirus had a disparate impact on the lives of older Americans, particularly those residing in the 28,900 nation’s assisted living facilities and over 15,000 nursing homes.

Historically, the HSCoA, operational from1975 to 1993, served as a unique venue that allowed open, bipartisan debate from various ideological and philosophical perspectives to promote consensus that, in turn, helped facilitate the critical work of the standing committees. Addressing the needs of older Americans in a post-pandemic world will require this type of investigative, legislative oversight, work which can be advanced and promoted by reestablishing the HSCoA.

As Americans are aging, we also face a variety of intergenerational concerns that merit the investigation by the HSCoA, such as growing demands on family caregivers and a burgeoning retirement security crisis.

A restored HSCoA would have an opportunity to more fully explore a range of aging issues and innovations that cross Authorizing Committees of jurisdiction, while holding field hearings, convening remote hearings, engaging communities, and promoting understanding and dialogue. Having both would bring value to Congressional deliberations.

Today, the Senate Permanent Special Committee on Aging is working on everything from scams against seniors to increasing Home and Community Based Services (HCBS), to calling out questionable billing practices by private Medicare Advantage insurers. Seniors have been better off over the last 30 years with a Senate Aging Committee in existence — and the Senate investigative committee would benefit from a reestablished HSCoA, whose sole mission would be to look out for older Americans.

Older voters vote both Democratic and Republican. Although the Democrats created an array of federal programs, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Affordable Care Act, these doesn’t guarantee they vote for this party. Quite candidly, it’s close. In 2020, while Joe Biden won the popular vote by 7 million, Donald Trump won the senior vote 52% to 47%. It’s not a matter of party. Seniors’ quality of life is not political. Passage of H. Res. 583 would send a very clear message out to America’s older voters that Congress can successfully govern and create legislation to enhance the quality of life in their later years.

Over 30 years ago, Congressman Claude Pepper died. He was a great visible national advocate for America’s seniors. In his 80s, he chaired the HSCoA and later the House Rules Committee. As Chair of HSCoA, he passed landmark aging legislation, working closely with the House authorizing committees with jurisdiction over aging programs and services. His efforts put an end to mandatory retirement. Alzheimer’s became a household word because of the hearing of his investigative committee. Legislation was passed to enhance the quality of care in the nation’s nursing homes, even creating the National Institute’s for Health.

As newspapers in communities across the nation curtail or jettison their investigative teams, the initial HSCoA has a proven track record and reputation of investigating aging issues, and this is a sound reason as to why the investigative committee should again be reactivated.

Reestablishing the HSCoA would recognize Congressman Pepper, the nation’s most visible and effective spokesperson for seniors, and more importantly to seniors a seat at the “legislative table” as Congress deliberates and debate aging policy issues.

What a symbolic opportunity to have passed H. Res. 583 in May during Older Americans Month. Sadly, this did not happen. But Speaker Pelosi has an opportunity to use her leadership position to endorse the resolution to bring back the HSCoA before the midterm elections. And Congressman Cicilline must continually remind his House colleagues of this resolution’s importance to America’s seniors, each, and every chance he has — on the House floor, at Committee meetings, and in the hallowed halls of Congress.  With the support of the Democratic caucus, leadership will get the message that it’s time to act.  Now.

Tom Spulak, former staff director and General Counsel of the House Rules Committee when Claude Pepper was Chairman.

Bob Weiner is former staff director and confident to the late Congressman Pepper when he chaired the HSCoA.

Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket, RI-based writer who has covered aging, health care and medical issues for over 40 yearsand writes this weekly column on aging issues for RINewsToday.com.

Senior Agenda Coalition of RI honors senior heroes

Published in RINewstoday on May 23, 2022

During Older Americans Month, it was a wonderful time to break bread, catch up with old friends and to recognize outstanding Rhode Island senior advocates. After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, over 100 people gathered at the Providence Marriott Downtown to attend the Senior Agenda Coalition of Rhode Island’s [link to members https://senioragendari.org/coalition ] (SACRI) 6th Annual Awards “Celebrating our Senior Heroes,” to honor eight honorees from the government, private and community agency sectors.

Kicking off the awards luncheon, SACRI’s Executive Director Bernard J. Beaudreau, recognized and thanked a slew of elected leaders and state officials in attendance: Lt. Governor Sabina Matos; Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea and Democratic candidate for Governor; Director Maria Cimini, Director, Office of Healthy Aging; Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D-District 4) who brought Senate Majority Leader Michael J. McCaffrey (D-District 29); Deputy Senate Majority Leaders James Seveney (D-District 11) and Senators Sandra Cano (D-District 9); Josh Miller (D-District 28); House Deputy Majority Leader Laura Carson (D-District 75); House Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-District 2);Terri Cortvriend (D-District 72); Deborah Ruggiero (D-District 74); and Susan Donovan, (D-District 69). Former Senate President Teresa Paiva-Weed, now serving as president of the Rhode Island Hospital Association, also attended.

Beaudreau, assisted by Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, called up each honoree to be presented with a citation and inscribed box. This year’s advocate heroes are: Rhode Island Lawmakers, House Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski, and Senators Mary Ellen Goodwin, and former State Senator Harold Metts, Elder Information Specialist Deborah Burton, SCACRI Volunteer and adviser Doris Stearn Donovan, Former SACRI Executive Director William Flynn, Case Manager Extraordinaire Saul Richman, and Community Organizer Marjorie Waters. (see bios below)

“Taking a moment to acknowledge and thank those who have stood out as leaders, people who made the extra effort for the greater good, whether being an elected leader, or work/volunteer for a community agency is an important part of building our members for change,” says Beaudreau. “These honored heroes inspire and motivate us to step up to the plate and get in the [legislative] game. They fuel us all to do our part,” he says.

Praising SACRI’s Senior Heroes

Lt. Governor Sabina Matos, who co-chairs the state’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Council (LTCCC) also saluted SACRI’s honorees. “Thank you to the awardees & the Coalition for your tireless advocacy & service to older adults in our state,” Matos said.

Rhode Island House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi offered his congratulations.

“I applaud all the award-winners, particularly House Majority Leader Blazejewski and Senate Majority Whip Goodwin. They are well-deserving of this honor due to their demanding work and dedication on many senior issues. They were the respective House and Senate sponsors of a bill passed a few years back which established an individual provider model for home care in Rhode Island. This model gives seniors another option to be cared for at home and remain connected to their communities and families. Older residents prefer home care. Not only is it more comfortable for seniors, but it is also more cost-effective,” he said.

According to Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio, Sens. Goodwin, Metts and Representative Christopher Blazejewski have been tremendous advocates for Rhode Island’s seniors, and they are incredibly deserving of this recognition.

“Whip Goodwin has long been a champion for seniors and people living with disabilities in our state. Last year, she helped shepherd the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act into law, a critical step in addressing the resident care crisis in Rhode Island by setting new staffing requirements and minimum standards of care.

In 2018, she helped lead a successful effort to expand home-based care for seniors and the disabled. She also worked to improve reimbursement rates for nursing homes, among many other accomplishments,” said Senate President Ruggerio.

“During his decades in the General Assembly, former Senator Metts was a powerful advocate for the Meals on Wheels program, as well as efforts to restore free bus passes for low-income seniors and people living with disabilities. His work has improved the lives of thousands of Rhode Islanders, including many of the most vulnerable members of our communities. I am forever grateful for his service and his friendship,” notes the Senate President.

Two SACRI Board members also gave thumbs-up to the latest group of SACRI heroes, too.

“It was exciting to see such great participation in the luncheon to honor this year’s senior heroes,” says Maureen Maigret, the Senior Agenda’s policy adviser who serves on its Board. “This year’s heroes included both legislative leaders who have been strong advocates for seniors and members of the community who work to bring dignity, respect, and an excellent quality of life for older Rhode Islanders. I salute them,” says Maigret.

According to Maigret, the state’s legislative leaders have also been responsive to senior advocates, supporting the creating the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long-Term Care Coordinating Council promoted by the Senior Agenda Coalition.

“There are a variety of Senior Heroes in our community, and it is important for the Senior Agenda Coalition of RI to pause and give recognition to these selfless individuals. These soldiers for service are truly compassionate people who advocate for legislative changes that will improve “living in place” for older adults/families,” says Vin Marzullo, a well-known aging advocate who served as a federal civil rights and national service administrator. They help organize and promote the use of local elder services (nutrition, health care, and recreational), and they help protect and aid seniors who are victims of abuse,” noted the West Warwick resident, one of the newest Senior Agenda Board Members.

Honorees at SACRI’s Recognition

Deborah Burton expressed her gratitude for being given the prestigious SACRI recognition. “As advocates, we lean into our work to make the world a better place for all of us without necessarily being aware of the ripple effect we have on our community,” says Deb Burton, gerontologist and Executive Director of RI Elder Information, a website providing resources to older Rhode Islanders. “I was extremely honored to be recognized by Senior Agenda Coalition as a Senior Hero! The other nominees are wonderful people tirelessly doing amazing advocacy work and I am proud to be counted among them,” she adds.

Senator Goodwin stated that she “felt humbled to be included among such a distinguished group of honorees, especially my friend Harold Metts. This award is incredibly special to me, and to receive it from an organization as vital and esteemed as the SACRI is extremely meaningful,” she said, noting that this organization has been an incredible ally in my work and the work of my colleagues, and I know it will continue to be in the future.”

SACRI is an independent and diverse coalition of agency and individual members.  Its mission is to mobilize people to achieve power in order to implement an agenda that improves the quality of life of Rhode Island seniors.  For details about this group, go to https://senioragendari.org/

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Bios of Honorees:

House Leader Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-District 2) — For over 12 years, Rep. Blazejewski has championed environmental protection, education, civil rights, senior services, health care, and economic opportunity for working families. Among the senior issues he has advocated for over the years, Blazejewski worked tirelessly to pass legislation creating an Independent Provider (IP) program for home care in Rhode Island. That innovative program is helping expand the home care workforce. He also helped win its continued funding. Responding the COVID’s impact on nursing home residents, he helped pass legislation raising quality standards for nursing homes. He again worked with the Senior Agenda Coalition to help pass the Nursing Home Safe Staffing and Quality Care Act.

Deborah Burton — As Executive Director of RI Elder Info and creator of rielderinfo.com, Burton maintains the most comprehensive, expert-curated, multilingual resources for Seniors, Caregivers and Professionals in Rhode Island. She is the creator and host of Friday Friends-a weekly livestream and podcast and serves as Master of Ceremonies for RI Elder Info’s Virtual Senior Resource Fairs, annual Calling All Veterans Day and annual Calling All Women Warriors.

For over 30 years, Burton has been a strong advocate for aging independently, in the community of our choosing, surrounded by those that we care for and who care for us. She has provided outreach and education to the community on how to achieve these goals.Doris Stearn Donovan

Doris Stearn Donovan — The deputy director of the Rhode Island Foundation has become a powerful advocate for older seniors. During SACRI’s 2020 Strategic Plan sessions, Donovan urged that in the years ahead the organization work harder to combat ageism, especially discrimination toward people over age 75. Donovan has an impressive career. She was valedictorian of her class at Bown; an expert in educational-program evaluation. She has served also served on many boards including Children’s Friend and the George Wiley Center.

William F. Flynn – Under his leadership, hundreds of older Rhode Islanders have engaged in successful citizen action to win public policy changes over the years. Flynn served as served as SACRI’s Executive Director from 2008 to early 2022. Prior to joining the Coalition, he held leadership positions at the RI Community Food Bank, George Wiley Center, and Urban League of Rhode Island. During Flynn’s tenure at SACRI, the organization achieved important wins. These included: Permanent state funding for the No-Fare Bus Pass Program for seniors and persons with disabilities; Increasing annual funding for Meals on Wheels and Senior Centers; Higher pay for home health care workers; Raising the Bar legislation for increased staffing and pay increases for direct care providers in nursing homes; and, Increasing eligibility for moderate income seniors for home care cost-share options.

Senator Maryellen Goodwin — With over 36 years in the Senate under her belt, the  Rhode Island Senate Majority Whip, the third-ranking member of the Senate Leadership, has been a fierce advocate and effective advocate for seniors in the Senate. Last legislative session, the Senator helped to enact the Nursing Home Staffing and Quality Care Act into law, setting new staffing requirements and minimum standards of care.

In 2018, she also pushed to expand home-based care for seniors and the disabled along with working to  improve reimbursement rates for nursing homes.

Senator Harold Metts – After serving as State Representative from 1984 to 1998, Metts would later win a seat in the upper Chamber in 2004, serving until 2020. Metts. Served as President, vice president and twice Secretary of The Rhode Island Black Caucus of State Legislators; and former Secretary/chaplain of The Rhode Island Caucus of Black and Latino State Legislators. During his 30 years in the General Assembly, the Senator was an advocate for the Meals on Wheels program, and for touring free bus passes for low-income seniors and people living with disabilities.

Saul Richman – For several years Richman has worked a case manager for Protective Services for Tri-County Community Action Agency. He also assists seniors to learn more about Medicare benefit. When the state of Rhode Island gets a report that an older adult needs assistance, Richman makes a home visit, gathers information, and works to provide them with appropriate public services. His tireless efforts have helped to resolve issues of countless senior clients. Oftentimes he goes beyond his duties to ensure the safety and security that his clients require, working well beyond his workday scheduled.

Marjorie Waters – Serves as a Community Organizer for the Rhode Island Organizing Project (RIOP), a leadership role that she has held over the past eight years. As to her organizing strategy, Waters listens to what older adults are saying. Her rule is “don’t think you know what you’re going to hear..”  She listens, and then she acts. Before RIOP, Marjorie directed the Westminster Senior Center in Providence after an earlier career in information technology. Waters was a leader in both the Home Care Independence Provider Program and the Raise the Bar coalitions, both of which passed the legislature and have a profound impact of the daily and quality of living situations for those who need homecare and nursing home care.

About the Senior Agenda Coalition:

https://senioragendari.org

The Senior Agenda Coalition is an independent and diverse coalition of agency and individual members. Our mission is to mobilize people to achieve power in order to implement an agenda that improves the quality of life of older Rhode Islanders. We accomplish this through community organizingpublic education and legislative advocacy.

To read all articles by Herb Weiss, go to: https://rinewstoday.com/herb-weiss/

Older Americans Month: great time to bring back House Aging Committee

Published in RINewsToday on May 9, 2022

On April 29, President Joe Biden proclaimed the month of May, Older Americans Month for 2022 to honor the nation’s 54.1 million Americans aged 65 and over “who contribute their time and wisdom to make our communities stronger, more informed, and better connected.”

“Older adults have always been a vital source of strength and resilience in America,” stated Biden in the proclamation.  During the pandemic, many seniors came out of retirement to serve their communities in health care and education roles, filling job vacancies in critical shortage areas. Moving forward, we must ensure that older Americans have the appropriate resources to maintain their independence and stay connected to their communities,” he said.

The proclamation also noted that the nation is celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program — the first federal program to support the well-being of older Americans through meal deliveries, nutrition services, educational programs, and counseling. This year is also the 10th anniversary of the nation’s National Plan to Address Alzheimer’s Disease and recommit to building upon this important work being done.

Biden recognizing this month in honor of seniors follows the footsteps of 11 presidents, beginning with President John F. Kennedy in 1963, when only 17 million Americans had reached their 65thbirthday. At that time,  about a third of America’s seniors lived in poverty and there were only a few federal programs to meet their needs. A meeting in April 1963 between Kennedy and the National Council of Senior Citizens led to designating May as “Senior Citizens Month,” later renamed “Older Americans Month.”

Over the years, OAM is a time the nation acknowledges the contributions of past and current older persons to our country, in particular those who defended our country. Communities across the nation pay tribute at ceremonies, events, and fairs, or in other ways to older persons in their communities.  

OAM – a great time to bring back the House Aging Committee

As the nation celebrates OAM, an eblast to over 90,000 seniors by the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM) urged these older voters to call their congressmen to request them to cosponsor Rhode Island Congressman David Cicilline’s H. Res. 583, to reestablish the House Select Committee on Aging (HSCoA). “It couldn’t be a better time to highlight the urgent need to reinstate this investigative committee which would help restore Congressional focus on key policy issues [Social Security, Medicare, housing, prescription drugs, and long-term care] impacting the nation’s seniors says the Benefits Watch newsletter.   

“Today, with seniors representing a growing portion of the U.S. population and several federal programs that seniors rely on at an inflection point, there is an increasing need for a House committee that advocates for older Americans,” says NCPSM’s email, noting that’s why the Washington, DC-based advocacy group has signed onto the Leadership Council on Aging Organization’s (LCAO) letter calling on the House to pass H. Res. 583. 

“While there are other committees with jurisdiction over seniors’ programs, there is no single committee dedicated to keeping an eye on the big picture for seniors.  Fortunately, the Senate Special Committee on Aging has continued to operate in the absence of a House counterpart,” notes NCPSSM’s email, noting that “seniors would benefit from a reinstated and robust HSCoA, whose sole mission would be to look out for older American’s needs.

National Aging Groups, former Pepper staffer weighs in

“Older Americans month would be the perfect time to bring back the Aging Committee,” says Bob Weiner, former Chief of Staff under chairman Claude Pepper of the House Select Committee on Aging. “It’s sorely missing now. With Pepper’s legacy as the guide, pandemic deaths, nursing homes, home health care, Social Security, and Medicare would be improved by the sunlight of oversight. Seniors are now vulnerable and threatened by what could happen and having the Aging Committee back would reinstate the wall of protection that Pepper gave them,” he says. 

“The LCAO supports the establishment of HSCoA to provide an important forum for discussion, debate and exploration of issues impacting an aging society,” says Katie Smith Sloan, chair of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations (LCAO), a coalition of 69 Washington, DC-based aging organizations. “Addressing the needs of older adults and families, which are increasingly prevalent with our population shifts, now, as we celebrate Older Americans Month, is appropriate – and urgent,” says Sloan. LCAO sent a letter to members of Congress on March 4, 2022, urging them to cosponsor H. Res. 583. 

“Passing H Res 583 in May to coincide with it being Older Americans month would make eminent policy and political sense.  It is an investment in having a stronger and dedicated advocacy voice for older adults in the House which has been missing for almost 20 years,” says Robert B. Blancato, National Coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, who was the longest serving staff person on the original House Aging Committee, from 1977 to 1993.

“As our country’s older adult population continues to grow each day, so does the urgency with which we need to pursue effective solutions to myriad aging issues,” says Erika Kelly, Chief Membership and Advocacy Officer of Meals on Wheels America. “To see the House pass this resolution to reestablish the HSCoA during Older Americans Month would be a tremendous step forward,” she says.

“Older Americans Act programs, like Meals on Wheels, will undoubtedly face the lingering impact of the pandemic and other challenges for years to come. Having this HSCoA come [back] to life again, especially during this celebratory month, would provide critical leadership and attention when it’s needed most and make a difference in the lives of tens of millions of older adults,” says Kelly.

Finally, Cicilline, H. Res. 583’s sponsor and the NCPSSM tells us why it is important for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic leadership colleagues to support and bring H. Res. 583 to the House Rules Committee for a vote during Older Americans Month.

“With Older Americans Month upon us, this is an important moment to underscore how the pandemic has disproportionately impacted seniors. Now, with growing concerns about inflation, seniors on fixed incomes will bear the burden of the rising cost of prescription drugs, food, housing, and other essentials. A House Permanent Select Committee on Aging would help Congress focus on, study, and address the issues that affect seniors to make sure they can live the rest of their lives with dignity and security,” says Cicilline.

“When there was a HSCoA before it was abolished in 1995, the investigative House committee held hearings on aspects of the Older Americans Act leading up to the 1992 reauthorization of the law,” noted NCPSSM’s Dan Adcock, Director of Government Relations and Policy. “The findings of these hearings were helpful to the House Committee on Education and Labor which had legislative jurisdiction over the Older Americans Act.  The Subcommittee on Human Resources [now called the Civil Rights and Human Services Subcommittee] under the full Education and Labor Committee held several of its own hearings on the OAA, too – including field hearings held across the country — leading to the enactment of the 1992 reauthorization., he said. 

According to Adcock, during that period of time, there was significant communication between the House Aging Committee staff and the Ed and Labor Committee and Human Resources Subcommittee staff.  But the legislative language was written and marked up by the latter. “A reestablished HSCoA could play a similar role in the future, but the panel’s ability to have an impact on legislation drafted by the authorizing committees would depend on the cooperation between the respective committee chairs and staff and the degree of relevancy of the hearings held by a reconstituted House Aging Committee,” he says. 

Over 400 senior groups support H. Res. 583

While LCAO is a pretty diverse group of national aging organizations – each with their own policy priorities, the coalition of 69 members, representing over 100 million over 50, and 50 million over 65 came together to endorse and affirm their support of Cicilline’s resolution.  

Ms. Nancy Altman, President of Social Security Works and Chair of the Strengthen Social Security Coalition, strongly supports the passage of H. Res. 583 and that her coalition of 350 national and state organizations representing 50 million Americans endorses Rep. Cicilline’s resolution.  

As we celebrate OAM, it is key to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) and Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) to join Cicilline along with Congresswomen Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Doris Matsui (D-CA), cochairs of the Task Force on Aging and Family and 43 cosponsors of H. Res 583, giving the green light to the House Rules committee to vote, and if approved send it quickly to the floor.

H. Res. 583 does not require Senate consideration and only requires a House Rules and floor vote for passage.  Passing the reestablishment of an investigative committee in the House would send a powerful message to older Americans that Congress following in Pepper’s footsteps will again get serious in addressing aging issues. 

As mentioned in previous commentaries, bringing back the HSCoA is a winning federal policy to positive impact America’s seniors and this group.  It’s the  right thing to do especially at a time when seniors have been a disproportionately impacted by the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.    

Over 450 national and state aging organizations representing conservatively over 150 million seniors, support the enactment of H. Res. 583. That’s a great reason for the lower chamber to strongly support.

To see the LCAO’s letter sent to Congress on March 4, 2022, endorsing H. Res. 583, go to https://www.lcao.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/House-Aging-Committee-LCAO-Letter-3-4-22.pdf.

For a historical background of the HSCoA and details about H. Res. 583, go to https://rinewstoday.com/congressman-cicilline-poised-for-legacy-as-next-fiery-advocatsie-on-aging/.

For details about Congressman Claude Pepper (D-FL) Congressman, during his six-year serving as chair of the HSCoA, go to https://rinewstoday.com/congressman-cicilline-poised-for-legacy-as-next-fiery-advocate-on-aging/.