April 17, 2015

Honoring Our Volunteers: Kyla Knight

Did you know that April is National Volunteer Month? In honor of our extraordinary volunteers, SAGE will be asking a few of them some questions about what they do for our members!  Visit the blog on Fridays throughout the month of April for their stories.

Ginger SprinklersThis week’s highlight features a special interview with Kyla Knight from New York Life Insurance. Kyla has been volunteering with SAGE since 2013 and comes from our corporate volunteer program.

Hi Kyla. Thanks for taking the time to talk with me about your volunteering at SAGE!
It’s my pleasure! Firstly, Let me just say, I love SAGE.  I think it is so important to have our community age with equitable resources, community and dignity.  SAGE is taking tangible strides to making that a reality and whatever small part I can make to support SAGE’s staff is the least I can do. 

We are so glad to hear that! When did you first volunteer at SAGE? 
I went to my first volunteer information session in July of 2013.  At first, I was paired up with the HR Director two times a week from 9-11 am for several months to help out with some extra work. I then wanted to help out with actual events and constituents and in 2014, I was able to organize two events for SAGE through the help of many people kind people and organizations. 

What events were those?
The first event was with DL21C on expanding LGBT services in the outer boroughs.  Councilmember Ritchie Torres (D-Central Bronx) and Deputy Executive Director & CFO of SAGE, Tracy Welsh, spoke about the importance of LGBT senior services and how the expanded funds to SAGE from the City Council will be used. I am so proud that there are now SAGE Centers in the Bronx, Harlem, Staten Island and Brooklyn!

The second event was facilitated through the extreme generosity of my co-workers at New York Life Insurance.  Individual employees signed up to donate over 200 gifts and we hosted a Holiday Gift Drive Dinner at SAGE Center Midtown.  We ended the night with singing a karaoke song… Just Like a Prayer and everyone had a great time.

That sounds amazing! And you sound busy! Are you able to volunteer often?
I wish I could volunteer more, but I normally organize an event or two a month.

What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer?
My greatest strength is that I’m a very stubborn person! This dedication to my passions helps me show up and at the end of the day, showing up is all that really matters!  We don’t have to be perfect, or the best—but everyone has tremendous value to bring to the table.  Even if I don’t know how to do one particular task, I am certain someone I know does!  I have met so many new friends and have been taught many new skill sets along the way through work and volunteering. For that, I am very grateful. My hope is to try to highlight the work of amazing people who bring about positivity and courage for more of our community to start to feel included. 

How does volunteering make you feel?
Volunteering makes me feel at home.  Growing up, I spent a lot of time with my mom in a hair salon in Lavender Heights (Sacramento’s ‘gayborhood’).  It was so much fun telling stories, joking around and seeing people have makeovers, looking pretty and expressing their true gender identities! This was a huge influence in shaping my dream to move to New York as a queer activist, because I saw the importance of organizing events, rallies and showing up for our community. 

What have your experiences been like at SAGE?
SAGE gives me “the why.”  SAGE gives me a tangible vehicle in which to focus my passion for our community.  I am so grateful to stand upon the shoulders and the sacrifice and work of many LGBT+ sheros and heroes.  I am so proud of the amazing stories SAGE members have and every time I go to the SAGE Center I have had SO much fun! 

Brigadier General Tammy Smith, the first openly lesbian of the U.S. Army Reserve, said, “Never underestimate your ability to give others hope.” SAGE gives so many hope and dignity and I feel very lucky to be included.

So when is the next time you come back to volunteer?
I am very excited to volunteer Sunday April 26, 2015 for the next Women’s Spring Dance!  I am happy that a handful of coworkers agreed to help out as well!

That dance is amazing! Glad you and your coworkers are going. Is there anything else you would like to share?​
During a lazy Sunday afternoon I took my 11-year old woofderful pooch, Ginger, to the Lesbian Herstory Archives.  By accident, I found SAGE’s box upstairs and pored over various documents.  I completely lost track of time nerding out on organizational charts and event flyers!  SAGE took me in under her wing and helped me to verify many of my interests, strengths and passions.  I am now enrolled go to Baruch College for my MBA in Organizational Design and HR Management in the fall semester.  I hope to help the effort to reach economic parity within the queer community regardless of gender identity, race, class or sexual orientation.   

Volunteering with SAGE has given me back so much more than I can really explain and I know that many people I’ve met along the way feel the same about their experience with SAGE.  The fun part is that every volunteers experience is different and this solidarity helps to make SAGE so special. THANK YOU SAGE!

Wow. Thank you Kyla! It was so much fun to interview you and I look forward to hearing about your future volunteer activities at SAGE.
No, thank you!

April 16, 2015

Why National Healthcare Decisions Day Matters for LGBT People

1956956_10152884827600353_5665404736844718964_oIt's National Healthcare Decisions Day! A day where folks are encouraged to think about their future and examine important end-of-life documents. Have you put your end-of-life decisions in writing? Do you have a living will? Do you have a health care power of attorney?

These questions are extremely important, especially for our community. In an emergency, would you and your partner be treated as a couple? While The White House has addressed equal visitation and medical decision-making rights for same-sex couples, there are still holes in the system that leave LGBT people open to discrimination

If you don't know where to start, our National Resource Center on LGBT Aging has a number of excellent resources on their site. These include:

Remember, just signing an advance directive may not be enough! A recent blog post from our Successful Aging program highlights an issue with advance directives -- completing the documents may not provide enough protection! For the documents to be effective, treatment providers have to know of them, and what they say. Make sure you have a conversation with your loved ones and medical providers about your end-of-life documents to keep you protected.

April 15, 2015

How to Collect Data on Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity

InclusiveQuestionsOlder-Adults_Guidebook-1SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging created the Inclusive Questions for Older Adults: A Practical Guide to Collecting Data on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity to offer practitioners tips and guidance on how to ask older adults questions related to LGBT status.  The guide was created to assist service providers in understanding why it is important to learn their clients’ sexual orientation and gender identity; and to provide suggestions on ways to make the question-asking process safe and respectful. The guide also provides some versions of the questions themselves for those who are considering adding questions to their intake forms.  The guide is informed by experts in the data collection field and pulls quotes from interviews with older adults themselves about being asked these questions. The guide addresses the need to ensure confidentiality of the information received as well as insisting on service providers receiving proper cultural competency training.  To date, over 40,000 copies have been downloaded from the website.  Download or request your copy today!

April 10, 2015

Honoring Our Volunteers: Jeff and Tess

Did you know that April is National Volunteer Month? In honor of our extraordinary volunteers, SAGE will be asking a few of them some questions about what they do for our members!  Visit the blog on Fridays throughout the month of April for their stories.

Corporate Volunteer: Jeff Kern from BlackRock


Intranet Photo_Jeffrey KernWhen did you volunteer at SAGE? What did you do?
I have volunteered quite a few times at SAGE. Last year, I helped serve a holiday meal on Christmas. The LGBT Employee Network at BlackRock  has also partnered with SAGE to speak about retirement readiness for LGBT adults. This past fall, one of our HR professionals and I hosted a "Turbocharging your Career Search" -- a chat about job searching and how to better position yourself for success for the SAGEWorks program.

Do you volunteer often?
I try to volunteer as much as I can. I love getting involved in the community. When I was in college, several organizations made a huge impact on me. They showed me that I could be an authentic LGBT leader in business. I want to pay it forward and contribute to equality, globally, and ensure that all people are treated with dignity and respect on a very basic level. 

What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer?
I am really organized. To make a big impact, it’s crucial to be organized. In my opinion, organized people can accomplish more.  

How does volunteering make you feel?
It all comes back around to paying it forward. I do it because it is the right thing to do and it is good for everyone. 

What was your experience like at SAGE?
The SAGE Center Midtown is incredible. Just chatting with people there, looking at the different opportunities, it’s clear how diverse and engaged the LGBT community is. SAGE does a great job of facilitating the connections, resources and support needed for the community to thrive.

Would you come back to volunteer?
I definitely plan on it!

To learn more about our Corporate Volunteer program, please contact Elise Colomer at ecolomer@sageusa.org


Friendly Visitor Volunteer: Tess Thompson

Teresa ThompsonHow long have you volunteered at SAGE?
I connected with SAGE in the Fall of 2011. After meeting with the Friendly Visiting staff and going through some basic orientation, I met my friend-at-home for the first time in December of that year. I'm amazed to realize it has been almost three and a half years - on one hand, our friendship has developed so much during this time, but on the other hand I haven't noticed the months passing by so fast!

What do you do as a Friendly Visitor?
Every Tuesday evening I go over to my friend-at-home's apartment, and we chat, hang out, feed his cat, maybe watch a show on Netflix. Pretty much we spend a couple of hours doing what I would normally do when visiting any friend's home. My friend-at-home is housebound and therefore somewhat isolated, so I provide companionship and the knowledge that there is someone there who cares. We also chat via email a couple of times a month, sometimes he will send me a recipe or I will send him the trailer for a movie I think he would like.

What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer?
I think my greatest strength as a volunteer is my ability to listen to people and see things from their perspective. In all friendships sometimes people disagree or don't see things eye to eye, but if you can understand where each other is coming from then you can have compassion for each other instead of conflict.

How does being a Friendly Visitor make you feel?
I feel lucky to be a Friendly Visitor because I have expanded my community to include my wonderful friend-at-home. My life is enriched by his companionship, wisdom, and the laughter we share together.

What has been your best experience so far?
I'm not sure I can pick just one! It's special to celebrate with my friend-at-home near the holidays. Spending that time together always reminds me that community and caring for each other is what's really valuable in life.

Would you recommend others being a Friendly Volunteer? Why or why not?
I would definitely recommend considering becoming a Friendly Volunteer. We all need to connect more with each other - this experience is so meaningful not only for the friend-at-home, but also for the volunteer.

Anything else you would like to share?
Thanks SAGE, and keep up the good work!

To learn more about our Friendly Visitor program, please contact Matilde Busana at mbusana@sageusa.org

April 9, 2015

Announcing the Grand Prize Winner of the LGBT Healthy Aging Contest!

SAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging and the National Council on Aging’s National Institute of Senior Centers are proud to announce the winners of our 2015 Healthy LGBT Aging Photo Contest! It was a tough job choosing the winners from the 60-plus wonderful and dynamic photographs entered from all over the world, but our Grand Prize winner is Deborah Craig with her portrayal of “Two Women in a Forest.” Below is our featured interview with Deborah. Click here to view all of the winners and read their stories.

Deborah Craig - Grand Prize

Hi Deborah. Thanks for taking time to talk with us. First off, congratulations on winning the Grand Prize of our 2015 Healthy LGBT Photo Contest! Who are the people in your award-winning photo?
Thank you! It’s a great honor! The woman on the left is Nancy Stoller, retired professor of at UC Santa Cruz; the woman on the right is Joan MacQuarrie, a retired building inspector. It was taken in Northern California, on a women’s land community that has been in existence since the 1970s. This was a work weekend so mostly we were weed-wacking, hacking down brush, etc. This was not a deeply premeditated photo, I did have my good camera out, noticed the beautiful light, and thought the redwoods in the background and the tools and work clothes and women together perfectly expressed the spirit of this women’s land community: making something by working together, taking pleasure in the outdoors and beauty of nature, and, also feeling a sense of obligation as conservators of the land.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself? Have you always been interested in photography?

My background is a little bit eclectic. I have a degree in history and worked in publishing and as a writer in the tech industry for years, but I also have a lifelong interest in music and the arts. I’ve been taking pictures since I was a teenager and was in the photo department at California College of the Arts in Oakland for four years but didn’t have the funds to complete my degree. Now I teach at San Francisco State University in public health, but I do my best to keep my hand in the arts. I still play music (I’ve played jazz drums since 11!) and have been making health-related short films—including several films about women living with HIV and a current project on lesbians.

That’s exciting! What is the film about?
I hope to focus on lesbians and aging, but very specifically on lesbians aging in communities. (I’m a lesbian and aging myself!) I’m looking into women’s land communities—that’s where the picture was taken—but also retirement communities and RV communities. I hope to show these as three different types of communities that can support lesbians aging in positive ways. I actually think we’re experiencing a first: lesbians (and gay men, of course) aging while out of the closet. In some ways, I see many of these dynamic, political, engaged, and energetic women as role models for aging, not just for LGBT people, but for everyone.

Can’t wait to see it! Back to the photo. Can you tell me what you hope it conveys to people?
I hope it shows the strength, spirit of community, and just plain happiness of women working together in the outdoors. And of course the real beauty of aging.  

Do you think there is enough representation of LGBT older adults in the media?
Of course not!! There’s not enough representation of old people, of queers, or of women. So when you add that together, there’s especially not enough representation of older lesbians. We need to have more images, pictures, films, etc., showing older LGBT folks aging in a positive way. 

Considering you’re a “lesbian and aging yourself,” what do you think are major issues our LGBT community faces as they age?
I’m guessing there are probably at least several, many of them the same as for anyone who is aging: physical health, mental health, in particular loneliness, low income, etc. I haven’t interviewed seniors who are in the closet, but I definitely hear about them all the time. Many lesbians of course didn’t earn as much as men, and the cost of living has gotten so high. Some lesbians didn’t have children and may not have a family-based support network as they age. Again, those are all just guesses.

Those are pretty good guesses! We actually did a whole report on issues facing LGBT older adults called Out & Visible, and these were all major issues. You know your stuff! To finish up, who would you love to photograph?
Hmmm, a good question. I love photographing older people who have lived rich and full lives and are still full of spunk and inquiry. Maybe it’s a little bit of a cliche, but I think their history really shows on their faces. If you mean a particular person, maybe Jane Goodall or Ruth Bader Ginsberg–women with accomplished lives who have focused on their work not on how they look and who haven’t tried to pretend they are younger than they are. I’d love to photograph any lesbians along those lines too, but none are leaping to mind unfortunately.

That’s okay, I’m sure you’ll think of some in the future. Thanks again for chatting with me!
Thank you!

April 8, 2015

Creating Age-Friendly LGBT Centers

InclusiveservicesSAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging heard from LGBT centers across the country that they needed some practical tips on ways that they could make their centers and services available, accessible and welcoming to older adults. With that, we published the Age-Friendly Inclusive Services guide. With this tool, we provide a turnkey guide to LGBT organizations on how to open and welcome older adults to their communities and programs. We leveraged our core competency training curriculum for LGBT centers and also interviewed LGBT providers across the country on how they have successfully welcomed older adults into their settings. We added relevant quotes to the guide for credibility and an “on-the-ground” perspective.

Here are some of the features of this guide:

  • A historical timeline to understand how old someone born in the 1930s was when important events happened
  • Tips on how to use inclusive language/terms for older adults
  • Programming, marketing and outreach suggestions to reach older adults
  • Further resources and organizations dedicated to LGBT older adult services
  • A glossary of terms from the aging field

Hundreds of copies have been downloaded and requested to date. Get your free copy now

April 3, 2015

National Volunteer Month: Honoring Our Volunteers

Did you know that April is National Volunteer Month? In honor of our extraordinary volunteers, SAGE will be asking a few of them some questions about what they do for our members!  Visit the blog on Fridays throughout the month of April for their stories.

Friendly Visitor Volunteer: Stacey Britt Fitzgerald

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 5.04.44 PM
Jerre & Stacey

How long have you volunteered at SAGE?
I've been volunteering with Jerre, my 97-year-old superhuman friend, for the last 6 years! I honestly forget that I'm a "volunteer"--Jerre is like family at this point. 

What do you do as a Friendly Visitor?
I hang out with Jerre for an hour or so every week. Our activities have evolved over the years. In the beginning my visits were on Sunday afternoons so we would sit and chat and go on walks in the neighborhood. Now our schedule is to meet on Wednesday evenings, so we usually eat dinner together, do some stuff on the computer, and mostly just make each other laugh.

What is your greatest strength? How does it help you as a volunteer?
Probably sense of humor. Being able to make fun of each other has connected us across a 65-year age difference.

How does being a Friendly Visitor make you feel?
I honestly feel so lucky that I've been able to build a relationship with someone who's experienced so much and has shared such amazing stories with me.

What has been your best experience so far?
Oh gosh, there's so many. Maybe the time I horrified Jerre by bringing enormous 9 and 6 balloons to a restaurant for her 96th birthday. Or the time she taught me to play Scrabble only to be appalled by my (lack of) skills. Or the time we journeyed to the Brooklyn Museum to see the HIDE/SEEK exhibit. But definitely the most meaningful was when Jerre told me that she thought SAGE did a pretty good job matching us up together. I agree.

Awww, that is so sweet! Would you recommend others being a Friendly Volunteer? Why or why not?
A resounding yes! These seniors are the warriors who came before us! They fought the good fight and they deserve our respect and service. And maybe a younger person who lives to embarrass them.

Is there anything else you would like to share?
I'm so grateful to SAGE for providing crucial services for our LGBT elders.

We are so grateful to you and others who do such great work! Thank you!

Corporate Volunteer: Alyssa Nieves from Barclays SPECTRUM Network

Barclays Night at The SAGE Center
Barclays SPECTRUM Network at SAGE

When did you volunteer at SAGE?
Last week! March 30th, to be exact.

What did you do?
I served dinner to SAGE members. This was quite an experience as I never worked as a hostess/waitress. I moved around the room and mingled with the members while they were having dinner. Engaged in some wonderful conversation and met wonderful extraordinary people.

Do you volunteer often?
Yes, I often volunteer. I believe in making a difference and giving back. Each time I volunteer at any event I learn so much from people. I feel so blessed and honored and the only way for me to give back is to volunteer and let people know that strangers do care and people do matter. One can make a difference.

What is your greatest strength? How does it help you volunteer?
Hmmm, this one is difficult to answer. I get my strength from others. I learn and I try to give back. This may sound silly but recently I learned how to make a rose with a pen/pencil and duck tape. I then took this learning skill and showed it at one of my other volunteer events. So I take and give back. If ever I get invited to a SAGE activities arts/craft event I can show them how to make roses too!

How does volunteering make you feel?
Oh my so blessed and rewarding. If I can make someone happy or do something good for someone this makes it all worthwhile. If I make a difference then I served my purpose. When I was serving dinner at SAGE so many people were thankful. I received some great hugs and words of gratitude, that alone is worth it!

What was your experience like at SAGE?
The SAGE team members welcomed us with open arms. The staff and members were so excited that we were there for them and expressed their appreciation. I even got invited to the SAGE Talent Show in April 30, 2015, which I plan on attending!

Would you come back to volunteer?
Most definitely!

 

 

April 1, 2015

Highlighting our National Resource Center on LGBT Aging

InsluciveservicesguideSAGE’s National Resource Center on LGBT Aging created the Inclusive Services for LGBT Older Adults: A Practical Guide to Creating Welcoming Agencies after hearing from trainers and providers across the country that they needed a take-home tool to help them to take steps toward creating completely LGBT-inclusive organizations.  In order to develop the guide to providers’ needs most exhaustively, we wrote and disseminated a survey to service providers who had evidenced success in creating LGBT-welcoming services. From their survey responses and from SAGE’s expertise, we drafted the content, including quotes from actual providers in the field.  

The guide lists several concrete steps in each section to be sure to give providers the tools they need. An astounding 12,000+ copies have been distributed in hard copy and downloaded from our website to date!

The overall topics that are covered include:

  • Using proper terminology
  • Making good first impressions
  • Offering inclusive programs
  • Being trans-competent
  • Staff training and ongoing performance evaluation

Be sure to like the National Resource Center on Facebook and follow them on Twitter for great LGBT aging news and updates!

 

March 31, 2015

Aging in America Conference: SAGE Staff Roundup

SAGE staffers at the American Society on Aging's 2015 Aging in America Conference gave us their insights all through the week of the conference. Today marks a recap from a few staffers of their experience. See you next year at Aging in America!


1serenaI was so proud and pleased to present Helping Elders Tell Their Stories: Best Practices from StoryCorps and SAGE with my colleagues Tom Weber, Director of Community Services at SAGE and Kathi Boyle, Manager of SAGE Western Pennsylvania at Persad Center. We shared videos from our recent SAGE Story project—which encompassed five sites in North Carolina and Pennsylvania—as well as two stories from a StoryCorps visit to our SAGE Center in midtown Manhattan. SAGE is a proud partner with StoryCorps OutLoud, a multi-year initiative dedicated to recording and preserving LGBTQ stories across America.

To me, sitting in a room full of people listening to two voices in an intimate audio recording talking about their lives together really disrupts the usual conference routine. Although we packed a lot of information in our 60 minutes session, we made sure to set aside enough time to share SAGE and StoryCorps stories which created this incredible feeling of warmth and intimacy which really let itself to our interactive exercise. We asked everyone to share stories one-on-one using question prompts. We weren’t sure what was going to happen and I was totally amazed to see a room full of strangers immediately and enthusiastically jump into sharing personal stories. The room just buzzed with people talking and laughing—demonstrating once again the power of storytelling.

One participant summed it up perfectly—“This is so fabulous, tell me more.”

1story

About StoryCorps OutLoud
StoryCorps recognizes the profound historical importance of capturing the stories of the LGBTQ community and the urgent need for this work to happen now. StoryCorps OutLoud is a multi-year initiative dedicated to recording and preserving LGBTQ stories across America.

OutLoud will honor the stories of those who lived before the 1969 Stonewall uprisings, celebrate the lives of LGBTQ youth, and amplify the voices of those most often excluded from the historical record. The end result will be a diverse collection of stories that will enrich our nation’s history.

About SAGE Story
Through workshops and unique media approaches, SAGE Story brings storytelling to LGBT older people around the country, addressing discrimination and reshaping the narrative on aging in America. Piloted in New York City in early 2013, and expanded to multiple sites in Pennsylvania and North Carolina in 2014—thanks to the generous support of Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund—SAGE Story is becoming known as an important innovation for LGBT older people, equipped with the skills and platforms to craft their own powerful life stories.

One of the issues facing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people of all ages, is discrimination and SAGE Story strengthens the storytelling skills—and draws on the unique life experiences of—LGBT elders to diversify the public narratives on aging and LGBT rights. SAGE stories highlight the discrimination our population faces—with housing, work, friends, family and society. Watch a story on our site today.


1aarontI had quite a busy week at American Society on Aging’s “Aging in America” conference that focused on policy shifts on aging and, specifically, LGBT older adults. On behalf of SAGE, I was thrilled to organize and moderate a symposium entitled, Working Towards Equitable LGBT Aging Policy in a Post-Windsor World.

This symposium was held in a packed room and we were honored to be joined by our advocacy partners – n4a, Justice in Aging, Lambda Legal, the Medicare Rights Center, and the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare.  We focused on the following misconception: many thought that when the Supreme Court ruled Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional in Windsor, the flood gates to equality would be opened and same-sex couples would finally be on a level playing field with their heterosexual counterparts. As the participants learned, nothing, could be further from the truth.  We explored what that meant across the numerous federal programs, services, and supports, on which LGBT older adults rely.   And as we continue to advocate towards full equality, we explored what’s left to be done and how other diverse communities, "mainstream" aging organizations, and their constituents benefit from our advocacy.

Another important workshop that I participated in was entitled: Advocating for Aging in the 114th Congress, with Tony Sarmiento of Senior Service America, and Lita Levine Kleger of Experience Works.  We focused on the challenges SAGE and other organizations have faced in trying to get the Older Americans Act reauthorized ever since it was due to be reauthorized in 2011.   We also talked about the challenges in getting our organizational priorities heard through the White House Conference on Aging.  In particular, I focused on the importance of working in coalitions.  For SAGE, that means working with other LGBT organizations, diverse elder organizations, and other aging organizations.   We rely on our allies across the aging, LGBT, and diverse elder fields to advance LGBT-friendly federal aging policies.   And we look forward to working with them in the next few years as we continue our work on the Older Americans Act reauthorization and other priorities.  


Alex_kent_web1As a participant in the ASA Leadership Institute, I had a very different experience at ASA than my SAGE colleagues. Instead of attending regular conference sessions, a cohort of nearly 60 of us spent most of the week attending specialized classes and presentations on leadership skills and management of Aging Services. The group included 15 of us sent by the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation as part of the Making Maryland the Best Place to Grow Old initiative, in addition to folks from around the country who work in senior centers, AAAs, academics, and any other realm you might imagine to further the mission of successful aging.

Highlights of the week included a high-energy presentation by Sandy Markwood, CEO of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), and a Q&A with Kathy Greenlee, Assistant Secretary for Aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

One thing we heard over and over again was that the future of social services may very well rely on partnerships with Managed Care Organizations (MCOs). In business terms, the care management work we do in non-profit social service agencies saves the MCOs and insurance companies significant cost (think of the Medicare dollars spent, for instance,  when an older adult gets readmitted to the hospital for something that could have been prevented if there’d been a case manager looking after them). “Selling” our services to MCOs will enable our organizations to keep doing this type of work (because we do it best!),to expand our services and to tap into sustainable income streams, all while helping to advance the “triple aim” of Better Care, Better Health and Lower Cost. This type of partnership is not without its challenges, however, and I’ll be very interested to see how it plays out across the social service sector in the coming years.

The Friday morning forum on Social and Health Disparities was another highlight for me. Our own Michael Adams and many others presented fantastic research and innovative programs that are actively working to address these disparities, many with great success. Closing speaker Jeanette Takamura called on us to envision the consequence of a future in which social and health disparities have NOT been adequately addressed, when “minorities” become the majority in the U.S. (demographically expected to occur within the next 3 decades) and substandard care becomes the norm. This call to action clearly resonated in the room, which was packed with hundreds of Aging advocates from across the country.

In between sessions and in the evenings I had plenty of chances to catch up with my SAGE co-workers and other colleagues in LGBT Aging, which was the other great benefit of the trip. Someone commented to me how tight-knit we all seem to be, and it’s true. We take our work seriously, because we care about it passionately, but we also have an awful lot of fun when we get together!  I’m a strong believer that social connections enhance our work, so these opportunities to reconnect, catch up on each other’s projects and even just laugh together play an important role in strengthening our abilities to communicate, collaborate, and keep our work in alignment.

Overall it was an intense, exhilarating week in Chicago. I’m already looking forward to next year, when the conference comes to my neck of the woods in Washington, D.C.!

March 30, 2015

Successful Aging: Preparation

PreparationTwitter

One of the themes In SAGE’s Successful Aging program is “Preparation.” We define the term as: “Doing what you can, when you can, in advance of and addressing aging related contingencies.” This naturally includes completing wills and all the other related documents, such as living wills and advance directives. But according to a recent article in the New York Times entitled “The Trouble with Advance Directives”, completing the documents may not be preparation enough. For the documents to be effective, treatment providers have to know of them, and what they say.

The article describes a man whose advance directive specified “comfort care only, no heroics.” Not knowing the document existed, much less what it said, his doctors put him on a ventilator, performed a tracheostomy, and inserted a feeding tube. These procedures were approved by the man’s son, who was also unaware of the advance directives, and had never had a conversation with his father about the subject.

The Times article makes clear that getting the documents prepared and signed is only the first step. “Stories abound of documents misplaced, stashed in safe deposit boxes, filed in lawyers’ offices.” Or, as was the case with the case they described, the documents could be in the individual’s file, and were never discussed with family or medical staff.

Even when they’re consulted, the document’s language may prevent ready implementation. If it uses vague or outmoded language (what’s a “terminal “ condition? How long must a “vegetative state” last to qualify as “persistent”?), medical personnel may not be clear about how to proceed.

The best thing “experts say, is an ongoing series of conversations with the relatives or friends who will direct their care when they no longer can. In a crisis, doctors will turn to those people — more than to any document — to learn what the patient wants.”

Preparation, therefore, isn't just about getting a document signed. As the article concluded, “People feel reassured, even downright virtuous, when they have completed their paperwork, ‘but if the family doesn't know about it, if the medical team doesn't know about it, it might as well not exist.’”