Aging in Chicago – a confluence of committed professionals. Another year older, and again, Aging in America is over. Large non-profits, social services staffs, senior center leaders, nurses, senior housing execs, health insurance companies, councils on aging -- not to mention a gaggle of consultants and experts -- were there. More than 700 sessions were listed, visions for a better aging life were communicated, networking was had, training was held and CEUs were obtained. All of these laudable folk are in professions that are committed to helping older adults – in fact, many of them were clearly older adults themselves – people who serve, but may also need services. We heard visions of retirement reinvented to last 30 more years and new research identifying criteria for evaluating a city’s livability for older adults. And much more, a lot of it CEU-eligible. But did attendees learn anything new?
Aging services in America today – a mix of excess and micro focus everywhere. As budgets at the state and federal level come under scrutiny – will the role and work of aging services organizations be re-examined? Is there opportunity to consolidate, to articulate more specific objectives, to be accountable for specific outcomes, to identify quality of life transformations to make the lives of older adults better? So many organizations, ah, so little space in this blog post. These fifty associations identified at the national level are the tip of the iceberg of missions to help our aging population: they could be sorted by ethnicity, specific topics, and purpose, but they are not to be confused with the federal website of programs for older adults, or of course, the many initiatives listed in this other link at the state level. Click on these links and wonder. No doubt all of these programs, groups, agencies are filled with staffers who are committed to helping older adults in the ways defined by a specific organizational mission. But are seniors getting what they need? Who has defined what that is? How will we know?
Beyond the association of associations, can we set a goal to transcend fiefdoms? For every non-profit and association serving older adults, is there a corresponding for-profit company that could succeed by partnering with them -- either with good will units, tax write offs, or best of all, by gaining new customers? Rather than placing corporations on a fund-raising and advisory board, in our new era of budget awareness and cost containment, let’s see an effort (led by whom, I admit that I am unclear) to form a well-publicized ring of collaboration across aging services associations. Could that ring of collaboration shut down redundancy and halt ineffective programs? Perhaps it could maximize focus on a transformational result -- pick one or more: reduce isolation, loneliness, hunger, or create new businesses that hire or are started by older adults, envision new housing environments, offer technology access, deliver standardized fitness and wellness programs. In the new and consolidated world, national objectives could be articulated with a far greater specificity than 'helping older adults.' Organizations focused on food or technology or housing would know about each other and develop a collaborative mission aimed at lowering spending of the national associations while at the same time investing in local initiatives.
Consider a new 'business' model for aging services. You’re reading this and thinking, yeah, yeah, dream on. So here is a small example: take a look at the Senior Planet Exploration Center launched by OATS. This is not a senior center (which are funded by NCOA), not a senior housing clubhouse (represented by members of coalitions like LeadingAge and ALFA), but what it says: "A public-private partnership between OATS, the federal government, the City of New York and corporate sponsors. The 2,700-square-foot facility features a state-of-the-art computer lab with 23 high-end workstations, a studio for tablet and smartphone training, video conferencing pods, a video gaming area and an open space for curated exhibitions, presentations and classes. Support has been received from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), the City of New York’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and Department for the Aging (DFTA), The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, and corporate sponsors such as Macquarie Group, Time Warner Cable, Sony Corporation of America and Arent Fox." This type of partnership and result could be a new model of getting things done that are specific in their goals – let's really get 100% of older adults online, unencumbered by the missions of well-meaning associations, past and present.