These days, Edward Alan Miller, PhD, wears multiple hats. The gerontology professor at UMass Boston was named department chair in 2021 after serving many years as graduate program director. He guides the continuing growth of the Journal of Aging & Social Policy as its editor in chief. And in collaboration with his gerontology colleagues, he conducts research focused on assessing the determinants and effects of local, state, and federal policy for older adults and other vulnerable populations.

“Part of my research agenda involves understanding why states do what they do,” Miller says. “My early work in this area focused on nursing home reimbursements, trying to understand the different systems and their characteristics, and why states choose different approaches and the effects of those approaches.”

One of Miller’s current research projects continues his interest in nursing home payment. Miller is working with Marc Cohen, co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston; Elizabeth Simpson, a gerontology doctoral student at UMass Boston; and John Bowblis, an economics professor at Miami University of Ohio, on “Assessing Medicaid Rates and Costs in Nursing Facilities.” Theirs will be the most comprehensive study to date to determine, state by state, whether Medicaid reimbursement rates to nursing homes cover the costs of the services the facilities provide. The research is funded by the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Other recent and current research by Miller includes studying the benefits of embedding services within housing for older adults, to encourage aging in place. Miller’s publications include five books he authored and/or edited, and published with Routledge, Taylor & Francis: The COVID-19 Pandemic and Older Adults: Experiences, Impacts, and Innovations (2022); Older Adults and COVID-19: Implications for Aging Policy and Practice (2021); Aging Policy & Politics in the Trump Era: Implications for Older Americans (2018); Block Granting Medicaid: A Model for 21st Century Health Reform? (2014); and The Affordable Care Act: Advancing Long-Term Care in the United States (2012).

Snowball effect

Miller sees his career trajectory as a series of opportunities that kept building on each other. As a biology undergraduate at Cornell University with interests in psychology and political science, he spent his senior year in Washington, DC, and wrote a 100-plus page paper on long-term care, at the suggestion of a mentor. He stayed on at Cornell for an extra year to earn a master’s of public administration and wrote a thesis on “Long-Term Care Policy in the United States: A Pragmatic Perspective,” which built on his undergraduate work. Framed and hanging in Miller’s office is a note his adviser wrote in response to the thesis, including “You should give some thought to getting a PhD.”

Miller spent a year in New Zealand as a Fulbright scholar working on health policy before earning that PhD, in political science and health services organization and policy from the University of Michigan. After completing a postdoctoral fellowship in epidemiology and public health at Yale University, he joined Brown University as an assistant professor of public policy, political science, and community health before moving to UMass Boston in 2009.

These days, Miller has incorporated administrator into his professional identity. He says. “Earlier in my career I did a lot of solo authoring. It gradually became more collaborative as my role changed to be more supportive of junior colleagues and students.” He sees his work as department chair as “an opportunity to support my colleagues and students to be as successful as they possibly can. If I do my job well, they can focus on their work.” Seeing his students pursue their work with dissertations, publications, and desired career placements is immensely satisfying.

“There’s really no better job than being a professor, because you get to do different things in multiple areas, and no one day is the same as another,” Miller says. “You get to guide your own path, choosing what you research and learn about and teach, write, and serve the profession and community for living. You have a lot of freedom and flexibility and opportunities for impact.”

Having worked on long-term care issues for three decades, Miller admits that many things haven’t changed. “The costs of care, how we finance them, quality of care and how we regulate it—these issues are no different. We haven’t made nearly as much progress as we should have, because we’ve long known that the population is aging,” he says. “You can recognize some specific progress, like there’s a lot of focus on supporting family caregivers right now and a longer term trend towards non-institutional alternatives to nursing home placement. So, the emphasis may have changed, but the fundamental problems have persisted.”

Still, he finds the work intellectually stimulating, and he believes that working on long-term care is a productive place to put his energy. He knows that part of his interest in gerontology is personal, having been raised by older parents. “I think of my mom’s generation. They are the ones who came of age during the Great Depression and World War II, and they’re the ones who are most in need of services now.”

This winter, Miller is wearing one more hat: a winter beanie to protect him on long runs as he trains to run the Boston Marathon in April 2023. He is running to raise money for the Alzheimer’s Association in honor of his mother, who died in 2021, and to support quality care and research. Read more about his training and donate here.