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Reversing the State's Dismal Care Record

Strong Secretariat Key to Reversing State’s Dismal Care Record

Published in the November 2011 issue of The Fifty Plus Advocate.

There was a time when a sound argument could be made that Massachusetts was on the right track when it came to aging residents in need of long-term care services and their caregivers.

See Also: Bay State Ranks Low on Long Term Services

Massachusetts was nationally respected for its attention to its aging citizens, most especially because in 1974, the state had the foresight to elevate Elder Affairs to a cabinet level secretariat.

The distinction meant the secretary — who was usually a professional plucked from the aging network — reported directly to the governor. That person’s expertise allowed him or her to develop and implement a plethora of creative initiatives.

Under the best of circumstances, The Executive Office of Elder Affairs (EOEA) provided strong leadership with regard to aging concerns. That’s not to say there wasn’t room for improvement or, for that matter, better coordination of care; but the office was on the right track and made an impressive impact in service and program delivery.

How low we have fallen since those glory days. EOEA is now just a cog in the Health and Human Services (HHS) wheel, with little power or authority to act on behalf of the state’s aging population, thanks to its demotion under the Romney administration in 2003. It was a crushing blow at the time, with advocates and those who worked with the elder population prophetically warning that the quality of life for the elderly and caregivers would suffer the consequences.

Though Romney’s aim was to improve efficiency, consolidation was done with no thought to real people whose needs transcend health to include legal issues, housing, employment, transportation and consumer protection as well as social services. Or that the state’s aging population was growing, not shrinking.

Today Massachusetts ranks an embarrassing 30th among all states in terms of how it services individuals receiving long-term care in a nursing home or in their own home, according to a new study by AARP and the SCAN Foundation.

This is not to say that the demise of EOEA is solely responsible for this dismal score, I just wonder where we would be if we still had that strong, independent voice at the statehouse, advocating on behalf of the aging population and caregivers?

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