Through UMass Gerontology program, Advocate for Rhode Island Seniors Finds Her Voice

By Taryn Hojlo

Where can I get help?

Older adults and caretakers sometimes struggle with that question, unsure how to find aging services and other kinds of assistance they need. Deborah Burton realized there was a thriving demand for those services but information about them in her home state of Rhode Island did not exist in any centralized resource that was easy to find and use.

Burton, a 2013 graduate of UMass Boston Gerontology’s Management of Aging Services program, was a long-term care ombudsman and founder of Senior Choice Consulting. In her professional roles, she developed extensive knowledge of the resources available to her state’s senior community. Burton often met with clients who no longer lived in their homes but could have remained there if they had been connected with the appropriate services. “That really weighed on my heart,” she said.

“I was hearing over and over again that the state needed a comprehensive website to get this information out there. I had all this information, and in good conscience I couldn’t sit on it and let people suffer,” said Burton.

So Burton developed her own website, a place to publicize every statewide and national resource that she knew about online. Together with Englund Studios, Deborah designed a site that offered straightforward guidance on an easy-to-use, open access platform. By October 2016, RIElderInfo.com went live and has been gaining popularity among both the public and professionals in the field.

Since its launch, RIElderInfo.com has been heralded as an exceptional development for aging services and has earned numerous accolades. Most recently, it was listed as a “50 on Fire” innovation by Rhode Island Inno. The website’s parent company, Aging Easily, LLC, was also awarded the top prize at the Social Enterprise Greenhouse’s Health and Wellness Accelerator’s pitch event.

The website provides Rhode Island seniors with lists of potential resources and services based on their residential community. Offerings include links and addresses to local senior centers, housing authorities, and libraries. The site also features services and advice for caregivers and professionals, such as resources for legal guidance and opportunities for continuing education credits.

The website also offers a selection of information applicable to seniors nationwide, such as guidelines for when elders should consider giving up their drivers’ licenses. There are also resources to help users differentiate between Medicare and Medicaid. Burton hopes that officials from other states might adopt her idea so seniors across the country can be better informed about the resources available to them within their communities.

In addition to Senior Choice Consulting and RIElderInfo, Burton serves as a prominent advocate for the Rhode Island senior community. Her voice can be heard on boards and committees across the state, including the Rhode Island Elders’ Mental Health and Addiction Coalition, the Rhode Island Elder Minority Task Force, and several others.

Burton’s prolific advocacy career began when she was still a student at UMass Boston working on her MAS capstone project. The research, which focused on mandating national background checks for direct action healthcare workers, gave her the opportunity to participate in the Rhode Island Lieutenant Governor’s Long-Term Care Coordinating Counsel.

“I was actually at the State House testifying in support of implementing this program in Rhode Island,” said Burton, “It is in effect now, and that experience really helped me see that this is a very important issue not only in Rhode Island but across the country.”

Her experience on the council also gave her valuable networking opportunities, which she later drew upon to begin her work as a state ombudsman and consultant. She hopes that though RIElderInfo, her professional insight might give seniors and their caregivers a greater sense of control when planning future care.

“I want people to get their independence back, to make informed choices about their care,” she said. “I want to help my clients become their own advocates.”

 

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