Who Will Be Our Aging Champion?

February 21, 2017

By Suzanne Reed

“Is California prepared to meet the needs of the aging baby boomer generation?”

That was the question posed three years ago by the California State Senate Select Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care chaired by Senator Carol Liu (D-La Canada), where I served as Chief of Staff.

After a year of research, briefings by experts and public hearings, the Select Committee replied with a resounding, “No, it is not.”

The committee’s report, A Shattered System: Reforming Long-Term Care in California concluded that the current hodgepodge of a system fails to organize around consumer needs and is almost impossible to navigate.

It identified 112 aging-related programs distributed over 20 different agencies, departments and offices, with little or no communication or coordination among them.

A Shattered System concluded with over 30 recommendations for creating a new aging and long-term care system supported by thorough data and infused with leadership and accountability.

These recommendations were transformed into legislation that produced 35 bills authored by 17 different state senators and assembly members – a legislative first for a Select Committee.

Equally impressive was the breadth and extensive detail found in A Shattered System, a rarity for reports of this kind. The report included inquires with academics, practitioners, advocates and the public.

Ignored by Most Media

Nonetheless, the level of attention the media gave the report and its recommendations was a complete disappointment. In spite of appropriate notice and outreach to the media, the presence of several legislators from both houses and support from a range of statewide advocacy organizations, labor and service providers not a single reporter attended the press conference releasing the report and announcing the legislative package.

The Select Committee set about moving its bill package through the legislative process using a carefully constructed internal and external communications strategy. Jurisdiction over aging and long-term care issues spans several standing committees in the Senate and the Assembly (Health, Human Services and Insurance) as well as the Assembly Aging and Long Term Care Committee. (There is no standing Aging and Long Term Care Committee in the Senate).

Periodically, the Select Committee met together with staff members from the bills’ authors, as well as consultants from the relevant committees, hoping that early discussions could facilitate passage of the bills. The Select Committee emphasized that each bill was important in its own right and was also a key component of a more comprehensive aging and long-term care system.

Our strategy focused on heightening support from advocacy organizations, finding witnesses to testify for the bills, securing letters of support and continuing lobbying efforts. At the same time, the bills’ authors and several committee consultants pushed the agenda in speeches and public appearances.

A continued attempt was made to interest the media in the impending crisis by trying to place local stories about folks who were struggling inside a broken system of services and supports. Still nothing seemed to gain traction.

Rally Gains Attention, Not Money

In May 2016, a senior rally at the State Capitol called for restoring the budget cuts made to aging services as California clawed its way back from a deep recession-era debt. Organized by advocates and members from the Senate’s Select Committee and the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care, the rally cry was “Seniors Count!” Based on the number of attendees from around the state and the number of legislators who addressed the crowd, the event was an enormous success.

However, the effort failed to direct more state funding toward aging and long term care services.

Both good and bad news followed.

By the end of the 2015-2016 legislative session one third of the legislative package was enacted.

A major disappointment, however, was Gov. Jerry Brown’s refusal to sign Senator Liu’s bill requiring collaboration among those 112 disparate state agencies, departments and offices to produce a comprehensive State Aging and Long Term Care Plan.

What Does The Future Hold?

As we move forward in 2017, the future of the aging and long-term care agenda is unclear.

Who will be our champion?

No new legislators have as yet emerged to replace the termed-out Senator Liu and reactivate the Senate Select Committee on Aging and Long Term Care. At the same time, it’s unclear what agenda Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), will pursue as the new chair of the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care. He assumes the reins from Assembly Member Cheryl Brown, a staunch caregiver advocate who was defeated in her reelection bid.

Ironically, it’s possible that a federal assault by the Trump administration on our already meager aging services and supports may become the needed rallying cry to reenergize collaboration among advocacy organizations and inspire a champion to step forward. Time will tell.

Suzanne Reed is the former Chief of Staff for retired Senator Carol Liu and the former consultant to the Senate Select Committee on Aging and Long Term Care. She can be reached at csuzannereed48@gmail.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although not in attendance at the launch, the California Health Report covered the Shattered System report’s release after speaking with several experts for its story Reports or Rebellion: Aging at a Crossroads and followed up a year later with Waiting For Super Aging Man.

4 Responses to Who Will Be Our Aging Champion?

  1. Stephen Schmoll Reply

    February 22, 2017 at 1:38 am

    Some people act surprised but we’ve been here before many times in fact. In 1979 legislation referred to as the Felando/Torres long term care reform act came into existance. The only thing of substance that came out of that was a pilot project called MSSP.

    Having worked in several states all in the field of Aging, I have to say California lacks the collective will or for that matter any will at all to enact some of these reforms. You cannot legislate when there is little effort behind the legislation to back it with money, time, effort and sustaining momentum. We certainly don’t have that within the Department of Aging and never had. Yet no one takes CDA to task on their complete lack of advocacy efforts.

    In short, what might work would be a collaborative of heavy hitting foundations, corporations and other private sector entities that just say in effect “the shattered system will remain shattered unless we develop a collective will and not piece meal legislation that furthers the carrer goals of an Assemblyperson on his way to the Senate or higher. The money needs to come from he private sector with strong and binding conditions that outlive any single legislative session.

    It is truly sad that I received my graduate degree in Gerontology in 1978 and aside from changing a few dates most of my policy related text books are as relevant today as they were almost 40 years ago. Yes we have churned out endless policy experts and so many PHDs that they would stretch from here to Florida. Plus we have been plagued by fickle foundations that don’t stick long enoough with any single concept or idea but almost like coming up with the cure du jour.

    Think Foundations work together? Think again. In many ways huge egos have in effect sabotaged successful forward movement. At least in Florida the voters had the where with all to break away from the Health and Human Services Agency and form a Department of Elder Affairs directly responsible to the Governor. And of course, having a governor who is at least mildly interested in issues related to a growing elderly population might not hurt.

    Alas, there is no knight in shining armor coming to save the day. Government at the State level has failed older Calfornians miserably and will contiue to do so. And we haven’t even begun to touch self interests of labor and a retinue of shysters peddling everything from new housing designs to high tech designed to check or treat something. Businesses will respond to the market place yet we have for lack of a better word “sloganized” aging by using the Age Wave, Silver Tsunami and have had so called business experts try to peddle products that will appeal to this homogenous group called the baby boomers.

    A lot of money has been spent, a lot of fortunes made and a lot of books written yet we have absolutely nothing to show for it. Even now while more and more older Californians are falling below the poverty line, we spend feel good time talking about how age friendly all of our communities are. Kind of reminds me of another slogan made up years ago, “the happiest place on earth”.

    When a few large corporations and a few major foundations really get serious we might be able to have a more meaningful and productive discussion. Governement has over and over proven itself to be not the answer.

  2. David Wiltsee Reply

    February 22, 2017 at 8:08 pm

    Senator Dodd has authored numerous senior-friendly bills, both as an Assembly Member in past sessions and this year as a Senator. His legislative record makes Senator Dodd a stellar candidate on the Senate side.

    Too bad the Senate has yet to establish an Aging and Long-Term Care standing committee comparable to the Assembly’s.

  3. Laura Trejo Reply

    February 23, 2017 at 8:56 pm

    Because the needs of older adults are experienced and growing at the local level, we are not waiting for a champion from Sacramento or Washington D.C.. Between 2010 and 2030, the older adult population in the Los Angeles region is expected to almost double, from approximately 1.1 million to more than 2.1 million individuals. Our cities and counties cannot wait for more reports, failed legislation or media attention, nor can we ignore the lack of leadership, policies, programs, funding, and/or political will to support older persons aging in place.

    In the Los Angeles region our strategy has been to engage local elected officials, like Mayor Eric Garcetti, the Los Angeles City Council and Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to lead and champion a new vision for aging. In May 2016 the City and County joined forces with AARP California, the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging, USC’s Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and UCLA’s Los Angeles Community Academic Partnership for Research in Aging to create Purposeful Aging L.A. – an Age-Friendly initiative that is bringing municipal and county leaders, elected officials, academics, community leaders, and public and private resources together to create a better life for Angelenos of all ages.

    While we are only at the beginning of our work, we at last have the attention and support of our local political leaders to mobilize our region on behalf of older adults.

    We are no longer waiting for a champion to emerge; we are cultivating champions for aging in L.A.

    • Suzanne Reed Reply

      March 9, 2017 at 4:08 am

      Way to go Laura, local level is where it is at, though it would be nice to see some state and federal resources come your way to support and expand your good work! Carry on!

      Suzanne

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