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Age-Friendly Salem, Massachusetts

What's been achieved since joining the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities


Member Profile

Located 16 miles northeast of Boston, the historic city of Salem, Massachusetts, is home to some 43,000 residents, 20 percent of whom are age 60 or older. That figure is expected to climb to 25 percent by 2030.

Initiative Name: Salem for All Ages

Network Member Since: 2015

A birthday letter from Mayor Kimberley Driscoll and the cover of the Salem for All Ages Resource Guide

Courtesy Salem for All Ages

When residents turn 65, they receive a Happy Birthday letter from Mayor Kimberley Driscoll along with a resource guide about Salem. (Click on the image to check out the latest edition.)

Government Type: Salem is led by an elected mayor and an 11-member city council.

The Salem for All Ages Task Force surveyed 400 residents ages 50 to 90. Among the questions: What’s the biggest problem for people as they grow older?

"I thought most people would say financial or housing or health," cochair Patricia Zaido (pictured below) explains. "But most said 'isolation.'"

Reason(s) for Joining: In 2015, Salem resident Patricia Zaido, newly retired after years of working for several local organizations, read about a new "age-friendly" movement that Boston was considering joining. With her interest piqued, she made an appointment with Salem Mayor Kimberley Driscoll and told her what little she knew about the effort. "We're going to do it," said Driscoll.

The next thing Zaido knew, she was chairing Salem’s age-friendly committee, which hired Caitlin Coyle, Ph.D., a professor with the Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, to help write an action plan. "She knew all about age-friendly and action plans and I knew the people in Salem to put her in touch with," Zaido explains. 

Local Leadership: The 11-member Salem for All Ages Task Force is co-chaired by Patricia Zaido and Dominick Pangallo, the mayor's chief of staff. The task force works in conjunction with a 20-member Leadership Council, chaired by Driscoll.

The Financials: Funding for Salem's age-friendly work have included a grant from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, a Community Benefits agreement with Salem Hospital, city funds through excise fees and other revenue sources.

Findings from the Salem for All Ages Community Survey

Eight illustrations depicting age-friendly survey results from Salem, Massachusetts

(Click on the graphic to open a larger version.)

Actions and Achievements

Salem submitted its age-friendly action plan, Salem for All Ages, in 2016. The steps taken thus far include the following: 

Getting Around

Ridesharing in the Skipper!

Salem for All Ages taskforce cochair Patricia Zaido (pictured) says many of the city’s age-friendly initiatives, including its Salem Skipper rideshare service, are designed to combat social isolation and loneliness among older residents. Learn more about the service by reading this AARP Massachusetts article.

The Salem Skipper rideshare van

Photos by Tony Luong (top) and Salem for All Ages

At the 2020 launch of the Salem Skipper, an on-demand, low-cost rideshare service operated by the city, Mayor Driscoll tweeted, “In 2018, Salem residents told us current transportation options were not sufficient, convenient or affordable. Today we’re hoping to change that.”

Residents can hail a ride on a Skipper van for any destination within the city by calling or by using a mobile device app. The per trip cost is $1 for seniors, students and people with disabilities, and $2 for others. “It's intentionally kept extremely affordable so we can make it accessible to everyone,” says Pangallo. “At its heart, Skipper is about connections, so people can get out of their home and participate in community life if they don’t have a vehicle or can’t afford a taxi. In many ways, the service has been transformational for our city.” 

Taking Action for ADUs

Another achievement the co-chairs describe as "transformational" is the passage in 2021 of an ordinance allowing accessory dwelling units (or ADUs), which are secondary living quarters that exist on the same property lot as a primary residence.

Passing the ordinance involved three years of debate and several votes before success. "It was a bit of an uphill battle with our council, but it was passed largely because it is something for all ages," says Pangallo, who explains that opposition to the ADU bill seemed to have been based on a fear that there would be an overwhelming number of new units created, negatively changing the character of Salem neighborhoods. By demonstrating why that was not going to be the case (based on experiences and data from other communities), the age-friendly team and ADU supporters prevailed.

"ADUs are one tool in the larger toolbox being deployed to try to make Salem more affordable to everyone," says Pangallo. "ADUs create the opportunity for more naturally-occurring, affordable and entry-level housing, which enables a greater mix of residents to be able to stay here. In addition, ADUs empower long-time homeowners, especially seniors living on fixed incomes, by giving them an additional stream of income and allowing them greater flexibility to be able to age in place in our community."

'Prescriptions' for Food

Salem's age-friendly team is exploring a pilot program at Massachusetts hospitals in which doctors give patients "prescriptions" — in the form of vouchers to farmers markets, grocery stores and other healthy food sources. The program is part of the state's Food is Medicine plan, which provides services and health interventions in response to the link between unhealthy foods and chronic diseases. 

An Accessible Update

It’s estimated that only half of the cities and towns in Massachusetts have an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) plan, and for those that do, most are outdated. Salem's plan was several decades old and in need of an overhaul. "Our plan was just a couple of pages long and it was really more like an aspirational document for the city to strive to meet the requirements of ADA," Pangallo explains.

Working through Salem for All Ages' subcommittee on public infrastructure and accessibility, the city secured a grant from the Massachusetts Office on Disability to hire the Institute for Human Centered Design, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating inclusive and accessible design. Working with city officials the institute's team examined parks, every city building and various properties in order to identify where and how Salem wasn't living up to the ADA's requirements.

The resulting report provided element-by-element photographs showing compliance problems and then made recommendations with cost estimates for each accessibility issue. "The document of needed updates has been very helpful as we do our annual city budget in our capital plan," says Pangallo. "Because of it, we're now able to identify things through an accessibility lens, which opens up other doors for funding possibilities."

Disrupt Aging and Ageism

Mayor Kimberley Driscoll attending a St. Patrick's Day party for senior citizens

From Salem for All Ages

Salem Mayor Kim Driscoll (standing, upper left) visits with older residents at a pre-COVID St. Patrick's Day party.

"It's hard to get people interested in older adults," says Patricia Zaido. "Challenging ageism is one of our efforts and that includes raising the consciousness of people, because it's truly affecting the self-esteem of older adults." As part of her age-friendly work, Zaido created "How to Communicate With Older Adults," a training she delivers to local organizations about the ways inclusion is essential to creating a more livable community.

Lessons Learned (and Advice for Others)

Have Support from the Top

"That means having the buy-in from city leadership, the mayor, department heads, community leaders, people in the healthcare sector, the university and our community development organizations," says Dominick Pangallo. "Age-friendly is something they all identify as a priority." His age-friendly task force co-chair Patricia Zaido has given dozens of presentations throughout New England about age-friendly work. The key to success, she tells them, is "to have the backing of the mayor or whoever runs the town."

Join the AARP Age-Friendly Network — and Know How to Adapt

"I tell people they should join this initiative because older adults need advocacy," says Zaido. "We are primarily an advocacy group," she says about Salem's age-friendly taskforce. Part of being an advocacy group, she adds, is knowing how to work with partners, coordinate efforts, knock down silos and, when needed, adapt. One example: "An action plan is only a map. You might find different routes that are better. You may need to change the course. Certainly COVID made us do that. You might realize that some of the things in your action plan work very well without you — or that some are an overreach. There will be surprises that are out of your control. I hope people who are going into this realize that they are advocates, but it's in shifting sand."

Related Links

Reporting by Amy Lennard Goehner

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