HOST ORGANIZATION: The Maine Office of Aging and Disability Services, which works to "promote the highest level of independence, health and safety for older adults and adults with disabilities throughout Maine.”
CORPS ASSIGNMENT: To help develop an Age-Friendly Maine state plan based on the 8 Domains of Livability framework used by the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities; to create an outward-facing data dashboard to support the efforts of Maine communities to be more age-friendly; to collect data and conduct outreach with stakeholder groups, municipalities and age-friendly network member communities.
Miranda Cummings majored in journalism at the University of West Florida and at Austin Peay State in her hometown of Clarksville, Tennessee. Her Livable Communities Corps assignment dovetails with her personal story. “I quit school and moved up to Maine to help take care of my grandmother,” says Cummings. “That’s a big reason why the aging initiative means so much to me. I’ve wanted to help and make a difference and I’ve learned so much that will benefit my family.”
Raised in Bristol, Connecticut, Brian Dougeneck majored in elementary education at the University of Maine at Fort Kent and has adopted Maine as his home. “In Maine, we lose a lot of people to other states, in part because there are more resources elsewhere. I really want Maine to keep people here and stand out as a place to draw people in.”
WHY THE WORK IS NEEDED:
“Having lived in Maine for some 15 years, I definitely think this work is needed. We’re a rural state. Maine has one of the highest percentages of older people in the country. It’s hard for them to get information,” says Dougeneck.
In gathering information for the state action plan, Cummings is learning about the most pressing needs of Maine's tribal communities.
1. Develop an Age-Friendly State Action Plan
Cummings is focusing on this part of the work. "We’ve looked at age-friendly plans from other parts of the country and we're replicating what we like," says Cummings. "We've also condensed the 8 Domains of Livability framework to feature seven domains. We're building that from the ground up." (See Maine's domains and subdomains at the end of this page.)
When meeting with the project's advisory committee, Cummings asks the members to identify specific things that need improvements or solutions they’ve come across that could be beneficial for Maine's work.
During one meeting, the conversation turned to financial security. “A lot of the elderly community is being taken advantage of because of phone scams,” explains Cummings. "We need a way to educate the community about these scams so they'll be prepared.”
Another need is the lack of broadband internet access in many of the state's rural and remote communities. Cummings learned that before COVID, tele-health visits averaged 1,000 calls a week throughout the state. That number spiked to 80,000 during COVID. That bit of knowledge led to discussions about the needs to address within the Communications domain.
2. Gather data and create a dashboard
Dougeneck spends most of his time developing the data-filled dashboard that will be used by government officials and the general public. Making the dashboard interactive poses a challenge — as does getting the dashboard approved.
Adds the team’s supervisor, Joseph Zamboni, a program and policy manager at Maine's Office of Aging and Disability Services: “Finding measurements that speak to age-friendly characteristics is not easy. But Brian has invested a lot of time in forming relationships, connecting stakeholders, and thinking about which characteristics are — and should be —measured and what impacts on older adults will illustrate this work. Brian is connecting the state plan’s strategic objectives to data points in the dashboard. Doing so is a multidimensional and complex undertaking.”
CHANGE OF PLANS:
COVID-19 has definitely interrupted Dougeneck’s work. “During the first few months of this work, I saw COVID as a major, major setback for me personally,” Dougeneck says. “We still have access to key people through video conference, but not in person by going into communities. Right now it's more of a minor setback, but it’s still hard to share certain details with people because I haven't met them in person.”
Cummings's biggest challenge is a common one to any bureaucracy. “Knowing how big a project this is, and the impact it's going to make, I want everything to be perfect," she says. "My challenge is understanding there will be many drafts of the state plan, and it will be redone and redone. I am trying to accept that.”
An unexpected benefit of social distancing has been that instead of convening large committee meetings of the action plan's stakeholders, Cummings and Dougeneck have been speaking with members individually. For instance, in one-on-one discussions with committee members who are also members of a tribe, they learned that the tribal healthcare centers are struggling. “We’re getting such good feedback and awareness about where attention needs to be paid,” Cummings says. “I feel like we’re really going to make a difference with this action plan.”
A successful project that's led by both corps members is a newsletter born out of their efforts to share the information they've been collecting. Their Age-Friendly State Newsletter is used to communicate with the age-friendly effort's internal, cross-departmental steering committee and a large advisory committee, comprised of 40-plus stakeholders.
“Miranda and Brian staff the advisory committee and the steering committee, and they are really the architects for the Age-Friendly Maine state plan and the Age-Friendly Maine dashboard,” says Zamboni. “We wouldn’t have the capacity to do this work without them, especially now with COVID taking up so much of our time.”
Cummings and Dougeneck will continue their work until the end of 2020. Among their to-dos:
- Cummings wants the state action plan she's creating to help Maine and be a model for other states as well.
- Dougeneck's goal is to move the age-friendly dashboard from an internal project to one that is multifunctional and can be seen and used by the public as well as by partners and stakeholders, both internally and externally. He would also like to eventually transition from solely remote work. “I hope that before we leave our service, we're able to get into a community so we can talk to community members and get their thoughts — in person."
Reporting by Amy Lennard Goehner
7 Domains of Livability
From the Maine Office of Aging and Disability Services
1. Accessible Communication and Information
- Create no-wrong-door approaches for accessing services
- Access to high-speed internet
2. Financial Security and Employment
- Efforts to preseve and support autonomy
- Supporting an aging workforce
- Access to financial information, tools and resources
- Protecting older Mainers' income security
3. Health Coverage, Health Care and Support Services
- Healthy aging
- Access to health care and community-based supportive services
- Access to health coverage
- Accessible and affordable housing
- Resources that allow Mainers to remain at home
5. Natural Resource Management, Outdoor Spaces and Recreation
- Access to outdoor recreational spaces
- Safety and succession planning for farmers and woodland owners
6. Respect, Social Inclusion and Civic Engagement
- Expand opportunities for inclusion and diversity
- Volunteerism and community service
- Access to transportation
- Alternatives to driving
The weekly, award-winning AARP Livable Communities e-Newsletter provides local leaders with information and inspiration for making their town, city or neighborhood more livable for older adults and people of all ages. Subscribe today!