Gerontology’s Kathrin Boerner to Represent Boston Campus at UMass Faculty Speaker Series

Gerontology associate professor Kathrin Boerner will represent the UMass Boston campus this week at the annual University of Massachusetts Faculty Speaker Series in Florida, describing her ongoing research into the relationship between children and their surviving parents later in life.

The events, hosted by the University of Massachusetts Foundation, will feature presentations by one faculty member from each UMass campus. The speakers will be appear March 13 in Palm Beach and in Naples the following day.

Boerner, who teaches at the McCormack Graduate School, was selected as the UMass Boston speaker to discuss her research analyzing relationships between children age 65 or older and a parent who is at least 90 years old. In many individual cases, that became a study of mothers and daughters late in life. Continue reading

Gerontology Institute Adds 10 New Fellows Offering Wide Range of Academic Expertise

The McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute has welcomed 10 new fellows, all from the UMass Boston campus, who bring additional expertise in nursing and health sciences, public policy, sociology and economics to the organization.

“This move formalizes our collaboration with these individuals, which has been going on for a while,” said institute Director Len Fishman. “The overall growth in fellows reflects our growing research portfolio and the multidisciplinary nature of gerontology.”

The institute’s newest fellows also come from UMass Boston’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences, College of Liberal Arts, the Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy within the McCormack Graduate School and the Institute for Community Inclusion. Continue reading

Institute Talk: A Conversation with Senior Housing Design Authority Victor Regnier

Victor Regnier is, perhaps, the nation’s leading authority on the design and development of senior housing with service across the LTSS continuum. A joint professor at USC’s School of Architecture and Leonard Davis School of Gerontology, Regnier is the only person to achieve fellowship status in both the American Institute of Architects and the Gerontological Society of America.

As a designer and practicing architect, he has provided consulting advice on more than 400 building projects in 38 states and several foreign countries. As an academic, he has written 10 books or monographs and directed more than 20 research projects. Regnier’s latest book, Housing Design for an Increasingly Older Population, was published in September 2018.

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman recently talked with Regnier about  northern European models of senior housing with supportive services and their influence on housing for older adults in the United States. The following is an edited version of their conversation.


Len FishmanLen Fishman:
Your view of housing and services for older adults has been deeply influenced by models from Northern Europe, especially Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands. How did this happen?

 

Victor Regnier: I had been working on a research project with the head of geriatric medicine at UCLA in the late ‘80s, early ‘90s. I wanted to examine new housing models and had an upcoming sabbatical. He said I should go to northern Europe. He had been impressed by their attitudes and perspective on creating non-institutional circumstances for older people, especially older frail people. I ended up going to five countries. I asked to see the most non-institutional or residential housing for the frailest individuals and visited 100 buildings.

LF: You were coming from a country where, at that point, there was no assisted living to speak of and the idea of housing with supportive services hadn’t emerged yet. What were your impressions? Continue reading

In the Depths of Winter, a First-Year Gerontology PhD Student Starts Planning For Summer

This is another in an occasional series of stories about the academic experiences of a first-year UMass Boston gerontology PhD student.

By Caitlin Connelly

One semester down, many more to go. Looking ahead, I need to make an important decision about the best way to spend my summer. This is a question that students are faced with throughout their academic career.

There are many options rattling around in my mind and the choice between them feels hazy. Like most students, I have lots of interests and concerns that pull me in different directions. Do I follow my wanderlust and spend time traveling or do I help plant my roots here in Boston? I would like to gain research experience but how do I go about doing that? Should I spend time productively or give myself a little break after a strenuous academic year? How do I continue paying my bills? Are workshops and conferences worth the investment of money and time?

I reached out to some faculty and more experienced students to ask them for advice about how to determine a path I should take. Continue reading

Few Legal Options for Workers, Retirees When Church-Affiliated Hospital Pension Plans Fall Short

Sophie Esquier

Sophie Esquier

Bernice Benson spent 37 years working in the business office at St. Clare’s Hospital in upstate New York before retiring in 2008. The exit interview didn’t go well.

Benson learned her defined benefit pension would not be “what she had expected.” She took the hospital up on an offer to work one day a week in retirement to supplement pension payments that fell short by $200 a month. Eight years later, participants learned the St. Clare’s pension plan had been woefully underfunded. Benson, now 75 and still working one day per week, expects her pension payments to stop entirely around the time she reaches age 80.

Many workers and retirees like Benson are not covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the 1974 law commonly known as ERISA, which protects the rights of defined benefit pension beneficiaries. The law always exempted plans offered by churches and, years later, an amendment extended that exemption to include related employers such as hospitals affiliated with qualifying religious organizations.

Those extended exemptions were challenged in court more recently. But a unanimous 2017 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings and affirmed that religiously affiliated hospitals qualify for the ERISA exemption. Although Supreme Court left open the possibility of subsequent lawsuits, by not addressing the question of whether a hospital’s internal benefits committee is a “principal purpose organization,” the ERISA exemption is still permitted.

Sophie Esquier, staff attorney at the Gerontology Institute’s Pension Action Center, and Boston University law professor Maria O’Brien Hylton looked into the remaining legal options available to retirees affected by the decision. Writing in the New York University Review of Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation, they outline several ways employees and retirees affected by the exemption might use state laws to fight for their benefits when necessary. Continue reading

Gerontology Institute Team Delivers Comprehensive Report on Healthy Aging in Massachusetts

Mass. Heatlhy Aging Team

The Healthy Aging team, left to right: Wendy Wang PhD, Bon Kim, Nina Silverstein PhD, Jay Lee PhD, Sae Hwang Han, Shiva Prisad, Frank Porell PhD, Haowei Wang, Beth Dugan PhD. Team members not in photo: Natalie Pitheckoff and Evan Chunga.

A new report authored by a research team from the University of Massachusetts Boston provides a comprehensive examination of the health of a million older people living in the Commonwealth, including detailed profiles of every city and town.

The 2018 Massachusetts Healthy Aging Data Report, prepared by the team from the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute, became available online Monday at HealthyAgingDataReports.org. The report, made possible with the support of the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, follows statewide research conducted by the same team in 2015 and 2014. The new research looked at health trends among residents over age 65 who make up about 15 percent of the state’s population.

“Since our last report, Massachusetts gained approximately 125,000 more people age 65 and older,” said associate professor Elizabeth Dugan, who leads the UMass Boston team. “The aging population in Massachusetts is growing more racially and ethnically diverse, too. But what was most striking to me is how the experience of aging could vary so profoundly based on where you live. Continue reading

Institute Talk: A Conversation With Iora Health CEO Rushika Fernandopulle

Iora Health Chief Executive Rushika Fernandopulle, left, and Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman

Rushika Fernandopulle came to the United States from Sri Lanka as a young boy and later became a doctor after graduating from Harvard Medical School. He grew dissatisfied with standard systems of care, convinced alternatives that focused on primary care could work better. Fernandopulle eventually became the co-founder and chief executive of Iora Health, a Boston company building a national medical practice to do just that.

Today, Iora cares for nearly 30,000 patients at 35 practices, about 70 percent of whom are covered by Medicare. For many of its patients, IORA employs a “risk-based care” concept, accepting fixed annual payments to care for patients rather than billing for individual services. Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman spoke with Fernandopulle recently about his ideas on improving medical care. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

Len Fishman: How did you initially become interested in pursuing a different approach to care?

Rushika Fernandopulle: I’m a primary care doctor who trained at Mass. General. I realized that the model we had for primary care was not optimal. It was fragmented and reactive. Patients weren’t getting better and they were unsatisfied with their doctors. I realized that the core of what we were doing was turning health care into a series of transactions. Document, code, bill. All the things we were trying to do to fix health care were just making the problem worse. The simple insight I had was that maybe what we need to do is start from scratch and rebuild the system from the ground up, starting with relationships and not transactions. And that required changing everything — the payment model, the process, the technology, the space. Continue reading

Gerontology PhD Students Show Off Their Research at GSA Scientific Meeting

Celeste Beaulieu, a second-year PhD student, presenting her poster.

By Caitlin Connelly

That’s a lot of research.

UMass Boston’s gerontology faculty and students made 50 paper and poster presentations at the Annual Scientific Meeting of the Gerontological Society of America (GSA) held recently in Boston. The Gerontology Institute Blog asked students about their experiences as presenters at the important national conference.

Advice from PhD candidate Sae Hwang Han: Do the best science you can.

Sae Hwang Han, a PhD candidate at UMass Boston, already had a handful of presentations under his belt. This year, he presented at the poster sessions and also gave a talk at a symposium.

He found there were advantages to both poster and paper presentations. With the poster, he found, “you actually get to talk to people a lot, they ask good questions and you learn from the interactions.” Continue reading

UMass Boston Shows Progress in Audit of Age-Friendly University Initiative

By Taryn Hojlo

The first audit of the UMass Boston age-friendly university initiative shows the campus is making progress embracing its pledge to become more inviting to older students, staff, faculty and other members of the community. The audit, led by gerontology professor Nina Silverstein, reviewed the university’s age-friendly strengths as well as areas in need of additional attention. The volunteer research team included representatives from across campus departments and constituencies.

“Beyond simply endorsing principles, we needed to understand what age-friendliness means for our campus and what steps need to be taken to achieve it,” said Silverstein. “The audit is a step in the right direction.” Continue reading

Gerontology PhD Students Switch Roles as OLLI Scholars Leading Classes

OLLI Scholar Cindy Bui with student Rhonda Holyoke.

OLLI Scholar Cindy Bui with student Rhonda Holyoke.

By Caitlin Connelly

Think of it as academic role reversal.

In these classes, students become the teachers. The classes are offered by the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston, the state’s largest lifelong learning program for older adults. The instructors are PhD students studying gerontology at UMass Boston, known in these particular classrooms as OLLI Scholars.

Grad students have served as OLLI teachers for more than five years. This semester, UMass Boston Gerontology PhD students Emily Lim and Cindy Bui are the instructors of Popular Media, Apps and Communication, a course providing hands-on, interactive instruction on everything from hashtags to key phrases. Continue reading