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Does the aging services vision need a transformational overhaul?

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.


From G. Richard 'Dick' Ambrosius on LinkedIn: • Laurie...the simple answer is yes...and it was yes 20 years ago. I stopped attending most national aging conferences because there was nothing new. Generally, a group of nonprofits preaching to the choir on the need for more funding, more government resources and more services. Many nonprofit providers are literally sitting on a gold mine of revenue potential, but view the generation of revenue for their services as somehow unholy. The aging services network were in a perfect position to pioneer in home healthcare but let the window of opportunity slip by them. I actually had a group of aging leaders tell me that "everyone knows most older people can't afford the service." It is time these organizations stopped just focusing on just caring for and spend some time caring about their own future and the futures of those they serve. The days of 10 to 20% increases in Federal appropriations are over. Businesses will be seeking partners over the next decade, but few service agencies have a working understanding of later life values and literally no knowledge of ageless marketing. Bold leadership, fresh business models and less regulators is the key to future survival.

Laurie, The WORLD needs a transformational overhaul of its view on and vision for aging; especially as it relates to ageist attitudes.

I agree with your analysis. We live in a technology age where sharing best practices should be a standard.
Kathy Greenlee addressed our ASA Leadership Academy group about the future of aging services from a federal perspective. She challenged the group to think of monetizing service delivery so that human services can speak the same language as health reform. This is a tall order for professions operating on a shoe string budget that continues to get trimmed. The lack of a business mentality leaves the field without a long view instead it exits in survival mode.
There's no reason we cannot develop a single intake form that all agencies use and share electronically. Eliminating redundancies and sharing best practices would save resources that could then be used for service delivery. In health reform, this is interoperability and information exchanges. We can do the same for aging services.
I suspect there is an under current of self preservation of one's own agency or foundation's work going on here. Physicians and hospitals fought tooth and nail to hold 'their' records secret. However health care reform is morphing from a provider driven to consumer empowerment system. Let's do the same. Medicare Blue Button enable consumers to view, download and transmit their own records. Let's follow that lead. We need web based intake and eligibility directed at seniors themselves and not caseworkers or foundations.
Here's my idea of how it can be done. and

The last ASA conference I attended was in 1998 in San Francisco where I presented on technology uses in the home, and showcased a new WebTV product that I had done experiments with using several older people who were not computer savvy. This latest conference was so enjoyable, and I took away so much information. What I realized was that I had focused to narrowly on community care and in-home care over the last 15 years, and expanding that into the world of aging in general was an eye opener.

From the reasons for global aging (fertility rates) to new possibilities of changing the brain health equation to the current network for transitions that includes the AAAs, I came away from the conference having learned a lot of new things, energized for the field, and committed to keep working towards being a part of the solution for an aging society.

I agree some type of association should be in existence to oversee the quality of aging services, but it should certainly not be government run. If existing senior associations could work together to create a committee with high standards to ensure quality and guidelines are followed, that would be incredible.

Laurie your courage to state the truth so refreshing.

Using any resources, even if thin, coupled with STICK continuity and, as you suggested partnering with profit support for the long run, will produce a momentum. Profit making companies must constantly improve their marketing and quality control, to grow their revenues, while many aging nonprofits get away with warm and fuzzy metrics. Youtube, one notes, is where lots of aging hype is now showcased.

The bigger question is when are the Aging Conferences going to see that going ONLINE is so much more logical? The dollars spent for hotel, conference fees and related could be used where the aging garden is actually growing, back in the communities. Maximizing online time for getting out industry news and offering relevant learning for CEU'S, is much more efficient on all levels. Employing real time sessions (LIVE FEED), webinars or hosting social media groups with examples like LinkedIn, google hangouts, even Facebook groups providing valuable learning resources 24/7 now. Dying of course is not going away, however, the lead up time certainly is--dramatically.

So let's calibrate the vision honestly as you Laurie offered..moving good ideas from a template to practice within communities and worrying more about collaborative results than notching up conference anniversaries where people are more apt to remember good food, friends and city tours, than the agenda.

It is too bad Laurie isn’t Jericho. She could play “Let’s Work Together” on her horn and all the walls would come tumbling down. Oh if it could only be so.

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