Chicago – “Become a national voice but engage in local action” was the call to arms for political activism professionals in the field of aging heard throughout public policy sessions at the American Society on Aging (ASA) Conference in March.
On the day Congress had been slated to vote to repeal and replace Obamacare, speakers urged the 2,500-plus attendees to call members of Congress and urge them to vote no on the American Health Care Act because of its potential harm to frail older Americans.
Throughout the conference halls signs of “#ItsNotOkay” were displayed.
In the opening session, Bob Blancato, chair of ASA, listed several programs for older adults that would be eliminated or cut in President Trump’s budget proposal, including Foster Grandparents, Elder Justice, AmeriCorps, Senior Corps, Senior Companion program and Meals on Wheels.
“Is nothing sacred?” he asked, referring to proposed cuts in the meals program that began with the Older Americans Act in the mid-1960s.
If it had passed, the Republican replacement for the Affordable Care Act would have repealed three programs impacting older adults: Alzheimer prevention and outreach, falls prevention and the chronic disease self-management program.
Blancato is a national policy expert on aging issues who was a delegate to the White House Conference on Aging four times and headed it under President Clinton. He said the degree of enthusiasm and interest in political activism at this year’s ASA conference was unparalleled. “Ninety-eight percent of the public policy sessions had been approved before the election, but once people got here the tone changed dramatically. It was an organic process.”
Sprinkled among seminars on clinical and research topics, such as dementia caregiving, cognitive fitness, falls prevention, dental issues in aging, screening for depression and what we can learn from the aging process of cats and dogs, were sessions focused on mental health and aging policies of the Trump administration, what to do about senior poverty, financing long-term care, state Medicaid issues, mental health and aging coalitions, the eldercare workforce shortage and Beltway insiders’ views of current aging policy.
Several sessions focused on teaching members what they could do on a local level to educate the public, such as writing op-ed pieces and editorials for local newspapers and attending town hall meetings along with the community members.
“Unless you localize and humanize your efforts, you won’t be effective,” Blancato said.
The approximate 5,500 membership of ASA is multi-disciplinary and diverse, including the clinical rank-and-file people who work in the field of aging, agency directors, advocates, researchers and students. This year’s national conference attracted the largest number of participants since 2011.
“The purpose of ASA is to be an educational platform to help people in the field of aging to be more informed about their work and national trends, basically to be an essential resource,” Blancato said. “We want to give our members every tool possible to advocate
This year ASA is joining forces with the National Council on Aging (NCOA) to form an advocacy collaborative initiative. Howard Bedlin, NCOA’s vice president for public policy and advocacy, said, “We need to rise up, we need to work together. Now is the time for action to protect the people we serve.”
The Winter 2016-2017 issue of the journal of ASA, Generations, is dedicated to giving the president a message on aging policy. To learn more about ASA, visit its website, www.ASAging.org.
Paula Hartman-Stein, Ph.D., is an independent behavioral health consultant and clinical psychologist specializing in aging issues. Her email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.