UMB Gerontologists Tell Legislators Research, Preparation Keys to Helping Older Adults Deal with Impact of COVID-19

Len Fishman, Elizabeth Dugan and Jan Murtchler

Left to right, Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman, associate professor Elizabeth Dugan and professor Jan Mutchler. Fishman, Dugan and Mutchler appear in photos below.

UMass Boston gerontologists offered legislators two suggestions for state government in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic: Help researchers better understand what has happened to older adults and get elder Massachusetts residents prepared for a more challenging future.

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman, associate professor Elizabeth Dugan and professor Jan Mutchler all appeared individually at a May 15 virtual listening session hosted by the legislature’s Joint Committee on Elder Affairs. They joined a wide range of advocates, policymakers and other members of the public to describe the impact the pandemic has had on older adults and what state government should do to help. Continue reading

COAs and COVID-19: Managing New Issues on Communications, Food Security and Volunteerism

Bread in Bridgwater

Among many volunteers, a retired Bridgwater State University professor baked bread for distribution through his local COA.

The Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging is publishing a series of blog posts to follow the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Councils on Aging across Massachusetts.  We encourage COA readers to tell us about their experiences or responses to blog posts by using the reply box at the bottom of each post.

It’s a good thing Zoom and lots of other communications technology exists these days. But the old-fashioned telephone is also playing important role in the plans councils on aging are following to keep in touch with their elder residents.

In Bridgewater, the Fire Department is assisting to help identify phone numbers from census data for over 5,000 residents who are age 60 or older. Those numbers are being used to make wellness calls, but also develop a huge database for town’s emergency response protocol.

In Billerica, volunteers are making about 150 calls each week to check in with elder residents and evaluate their needs.

“During calls to check on patrons, they are so grateful to be remembered,” said Billerica COA Director Jean Bushnell. “It was remarkable to discover that care and concerned flowed both ways, they were actually worried about our staff.” Continue reading

PAC Case Study: Pension Confusion Resolved, but Benefit Arrived Decades Too Late for Former Chicago Hospital Worker

Lillie McWilliams passed away at the age of 86 without getting a dime of her pension.

McWilliams worked at a hospital in Chicago as a housekeeper in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Her daughter, Carol Griffin, believes she never knew she’d earned a pension and may have believed she lost any entitlement to a retirement benefit when her job was eliminated in 1983.

Carol and Lillie were very close throughout Lillie’s life and they lived together for many years. Carol, who was a nurse, stopped working outside the home when Lillie became ill and required full-time care. Money was tight, but it was important to Carol to keep her mother in their home and serve as her nurse. Continue reading

COAs and COVID-19: How Councils Are Adapting to Serve Their Communities

The Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging is launching a series of blog posts to follow the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Councils on Aging across Massachusetts. Posts reporting on conversations with COA directors about how they manage the evolving COVID-19 challenge will appear on the Gerontology Institute Blog. We encourage COA readers to tell us about their experiences or responses to blog posts by using the reply box at the bottom of each post. 

 How do you deal with a problem as overwhelming as the coronavirus pandemic? David Stevens prefers to think about that answer in phases.

Stevens, the executive director of the Massachusetts Councils on Aging (MCOA), has been leading an effort to provide support, coordinate resources and lead communication with his 350 member-COAs since the COVID-19 crisis gripped the state. Continue reading

How Healthy Aging Data Report Can Contribute to Fight Against COVID-19 in Massachusetts

Beth Dugan, Nina Silverstein, Chae Man Lee

Left to right, associate professor Elizabeth Dugan, professor Nina Silverstein and post-doctoral assistant Chae Man Lee.

A research team at the McCormack Graduate School’s Gerontology Institute published its most recent edition of the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Data Report late in 2018. The report provided detailed information on the health status of older adults across the state. The team, led by associate professor Elizabeth Dugan, also collected a massive amount of local data contained in the report’s 379 separate community profiles.

The Gerontology Institute Blog recently spoke with Dugan and two other team members — professor Nina Silverstein and post-doctoral assistant Chae Man (Jay) Lee — about the report and how it could contribute to the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Here’s what they had to say: Continue reading

Institute Talk: A Conversation with Hospice Physician Joanne Lynn About Nursing Homes Dealing with COVID-19


Joanne Lynn is a nationally recognized expert on issues related to palliative and end-of-life care. A geriatrician and hospice physician, she is the author of hundreds of journal articles and many books on issues concerning long-term services and supports. Very recently, she has written articles offering detailed advice for nursing homes dealing with the coronavirus pandemic and an overview of policy priorities for upcoming COVID-19 related deaths out of hospitals.

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman spoke with Lynn on April 3 about the daunting health challenges facing nursing homes and the best ways facilities can respond to them. The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Len Fishman: Let’s start by explaining the particular risk COVID-19 poses to residents of nursing homes and other facilities like assisted living?

 

 

Joanne Lynn: The people who live in nursing homes and other residential facilities tend to be not only in the age group that has high risk but also to have multiple complicating conditions that make it very difficult to survive a serious bout of COVID-19. Still, many people get a mild case and sail through or have very mild flu symptoms and feel sick for a few days but do okay. But a substantial proportion will have a serious illness. And it looks like something on the order of around 20 percent will die from COVID-19 in these conditions. Continue reading

Institute Talk: A Conversation with Home Care Executive Kevin Smith on Service in the Age of COVID-19

Home care agencies and their employees are performing critical services that help clients continue to live independently, work that has become even more challenging and dangerous in the coronavirus pandemic.

Kevin Smith is the chief executive of Best of Care, an agency headquartered in Quincy, Mass., that serves clients in greater Boston and many other areas of Massachusetts. Smith is also president of the Home Care Aide Council, Inc., a trade association of 70 agencies providing home care services in Massachusetts.

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman spoke with Smith on March 23 about home health agencies and their workers during the COVID-19 crisis. The following transcript was edited for length and clarity.

Len Fishman: Tell us briefly who your agency serves.

 

 

Kevin Smith: We are serving about 1,500 people. They are typically over age 60 and actually skew toward their 80s. It’s fair to say many depend on the care of our aides to remain independent and out of facility-based care. Continue reading

Boston’s Senior Civic Academy Helps Older Adults Understand and Engage Local Government

The Boston Senior Civic Academy was created in 2018 by city officials, with the assistance of the Gerontology Institute’s Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging. Its curriculum is designed to help older adults better understand how local government works and develop skills to advocate for issues important to them. Institute research fellow Caitlin Coyle has played a central role in the development of the academy. She recently spoke with the Gerontology Institute Blog about the program.

Q: How did Boston’s Senior Civic Academy come about?

Caitlin Coyle: The program was developed as a part of the Age Friendly Boston Initiative. As part of that initiative, we did a comprehensive needs assessment for the city of Boston several years ago. We found seniors felt that local policy makers and advocates did not necessarily take into consideration their experiences, needs and preferences. In response, this program was created as an opportunity for seniors to become more involved and to empower them as self-advocates at the policy level. It also created an opportunity for public education about how policy and decisions are made at the local, state and federal levels. Continue reading

Institute Director Len Fishman: Ease Direct-Care Health Workforce Shortage by Improving Jobs

Len Fishman testifies before Legislative committee

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman testifies Feb. 5 before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Elder Affairs

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman offered a simple suggestion to state legislators wrestling with the critical shortage of low-paid direct-care health workers: Make the jobs more attractive.

Fishman told the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Elder Services that two things – more money and a legitimate career path to better jobs – were overwhelmingly the most important factors that would attract more workers to the field.

“How can we convince more people to accept and remain in jobs that are physically and emotionally demanding, provide poor benefits, low wages and offer virtually no opportunity for career advancement? When you ask the question honestly, it answers itself,” he told the legislators at a Feb. 5 hearing. Continue reading

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