Students Jump in to Help Pension Action Center Manage Surge in Callers Seeking Help With Benefits

Pension Action Center student program participants

The students who helped the Pension Action Center process a big increase in calls for assistance. Left to right, Elizabeth Arpino, Kailyn Fellmeth, and Andrew Bellahcene.

Can you wear out a phone?

The Pension Action Center at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute is always busy fielding calls from people seeking help to track down their pensions or investigate benefits they believe they are owed. But the pace of callers seeking PAC helped went into overdrive during the fall.

That posed a problem for the small center with a limited number of people on hand to manage the volume. One solution: A grant from the McCormack Graduate School allowed PAC Director Anna-Marie Tabor to hire UMass Boston undergraduate students to jump in and help process the pension queries during the fall semester. Continue reading

PAC Case Study: Defending Retiree After Pension Plan Sent Her $37,000 Bill for Error it Made Long Ago

The Gerontology Institute’s Pension Action Center is part of the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston. It provides free legal assistance to low- and moderate-income workers, retirees and their survivors in the six New England states and Illinois whose pension benefits have been wrongfully denied. This is one in an occasional series of posts about cases the center pursues on behalf of its clients.

 Pensions are supposed to provide modest but regular income to help retirees make ends meet. Imagine a pension plan that instead sends a beneficiary an unexpected bill for $37,000.

This actually happened to “Sue,” a Pension Action Center client from Bridgeview, Ill. The plan in question said it made a mistake long ago and, as a result, had been paying her too much for years. It wanted to settle the matter by cutting off all her payments in the future, starting immediately.

The PAC helpline has been receiving an increasing number of calls from clients like Sue dealing with pension plan “recoupments.” In those cases, pension plans seek to correct their own miscalculations by demanding repayment from unsuspecting beneficiaries. Continue reading

What I Did on My Summer Vacation: Busy Gerontology Students Mixed Work with Pleasure

Summer is history.

Most of UMass Boston’s gerontology students enjoyed the vacation break and hopefully some even found their way to chairs on a beach. But many also worked on gerontology research projects, attended professional events or participated in fellowships at some point during the summer.

Haowei Wang, Adrita Barooah and Nidya Velasco Roldan all attended the prestigious RAND Summer Institute in Santa Monica, Calif. All said they had become interested in the institute based on recommendations of others. In particular, Sae Hwang Han and Yijung Kim had both traveled from UMass Boston to attend the institute the previous summer.

“It was a great opportunity to network and meet new people,” said Barooah. “Compared to a lot of big conferences, the RAND institute was more personal, which helped me get to know fellow attendees and their work better.” Continue reading

How Gerontology Grad Used MAS Capstone Project to Help Launch New Service Organization

By Taryn Hojlo

Erin Kopecki didn’t consider much beyond the grading rubric when she drafted a business plan for her gerontology capstone project at UMass Boston. Her professor told students they could satisfy the project’s requirements with either a research paper or a business plan. As someone with an interest in management, Kopecki was quick to declare her choice.

Like most of her Management of Aging Services assignments, she had written the capstone in piecemeal during lunch breaks and the rare bits of downtime that her full-time job as a home care scheduling coordinator allowed. But that project would later become the plan to launch TUCKed-In Eldercare, a geriatric management organization she co-founded on Nantucket. Continue reading

Dr. Shuangshuang Wang, Gerontology Graduate, Thanks Her Village at McCormack

By Saadia Ahmad

The first time that Dr. Shuangshuang Wang learned of the gerontology field was from a professor in college who mentioned that while there are many researchers interested in child development, far fewer are focused on the development of older adults. She enrolled in a class on human aging and discovered an interest in care-giving and marital relationships in the later stages of life. From that point forward, she began thinking about how to improve life quality at the larger stage of human development and found the Gerontology PhD program at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School.

That was seven years ago. Last month, Wang graduated with a doctoral degree in gerontology and with the Gerontology Book Award, presented to a graduating student who has demonstrated excellence across both coursework and dissertation work. Continue reading

Better Tools Needed to Evaluate Health Care Consumer Engagement Strategies

Consumer engagement has become a health care priority, but it is difficult to evaluate the effectiveness of strategies and organization-level plans developed to achieve that goal.

In a recent blog post for Community Catalyst’s Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation, authors Marc Cohen, Erin McGaffigan and Danielle Skenadore argue that “consumer engagement” itself is a term of art and can mean many different things.

“While the concept appears to have many supporters, how [it] is defined and applied in practice is much less clear,” they wrote. “Moreover, evidence-based strategies for successfully engaging consumers that are linked to clearly articulated and specific outcomes are few and far between.” Continue reading

Strategies to Manage Financing Challenge for Housing Plus Services

By Alisha Sanders

“How will we pay for services?”

That’s the number-one question I get during presentations and conversations about implementing housing plus services models in affordable senior housing communities. Unfortunately, I generally don’t have a good answer.

Right now, these communities are funding services through a variety of mechanisms: they squeeze money out of their operating budgets, apply for grants, collaborate with community partners, solicit in-kind donations, or come up with other creative maneuvers.

This bootstrapping approach can mean a couple of things. Potentially good service ideas may not get fully developed or could go away after some time. And those good service ideas may not get replicated in other communities. Continue reading

Video: Marc Cohen at U.S. Treasury Committee Hearing on Long-Term Care Insurance

The market for long-term care insurance has a lot of problems. That same market could be an important element in a broader solution to financing challenges surrounding long-term care as the nation’s population grows older.

That was the message Marc Cohen, co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston, brought to the U.S. Treasury Department’s federal advisory committee on insurance. Cohen spoke to the committee in detail about the state of the long-term care insurance market on Feb 22. His complete presentation can be viewed here.


A Closer Look at Bulgaria’s Aging Population Challenge

By Natalie Pitheckoff

Most Americans know very little about Bulgaria. Even fewer are aware of its aging population, which is creating great challenges (and opportunities) across the country. People often hear or read about aging in countries such as China and India due to their large projected increases in older adults. It seems like Bulgaria gets lost among the giants, even though the country’s current rate of population aging ranks fourth worldwide behind only Japan, Italy, and Germany (Karpinska & Dykstra, 2014; Velkovska, 2010).

As a Bulgarian citizen, I felt it was due time to shed some light on the country’s aging and demographic landscape. I decided to write a manuscript for The Gerontologist, published in the October edition, which describes in detail the factors that have led Bulgaria to its current circumstance and examines the serious implications for the years ahead. Continue reading

PAC Case Study: Helping a Widow Secure Survivor Pension Benefit

The Gerontology Institute’s Pension Action Center is part of  the McCormack Graduate School at UMass Boston. It provides free legal assistance to low- and moderate-income workers, retirees and their survivors in the six New England states and Illinois whose pension benefits have been wrongfully denied. This is one in an occasional series of posts about cases the center pursues on behalf of its clients.

A 67-year old widow from Charlestown came to the Pension Action Center with a sad story and a serious problem. Her husband had worked cleaning offices as a member of the Service Employees International Union for over 30 years. But union pension fund officials told her she was not entitled to a survivor’s benefit as a result of his sudden death – just one day after signing forms to begin receiving his pension. Continue reading