The Future of Long Term Service and Supports: Centering the Voices of Older Adults in Massachusetts

The pandemic has laid bare the shortcomings of the Long Term Service and Supports (LTSS) system for older adults here in Massachusetts and around the country. Older adults have experienced higher rates of infection and death, particularly in communities of color and in areas with higher rates of LTSS use.

Robust conversations have begun among academics, policymakers, advocates and industry leaders to identify solutions to improve safety and create a sustainable LTSS system. As most impacted, older adults and family caregivers must be at the center of these discussions.

With generous support from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, Community Catalyst, Massachusetts Senior Action Council and the Leading Age LTSS Center @ UMass Boston have launched a new three-year initiative, The Future of LTSS: Centering the Voices of Older Adults. This project will engage older adults and family caregivers across the Commonwealth to assure that their views guide the development and promotion of recommendations for transforming the way we provide and pay for LTSS.

Project objectives include:

  • Gaining a deeper understanding from older adults and family caregivers across Massachusetts – particularly those from historically underserved communities – of their experiences with the LTSS system (before and during the pandemic) and how the system can be transformed to better address and account for their needs, preferences and values.
  • Engage Massachusetts older adults and family caregivers as agents of change as the Commonwealth develops the reforms necessary to ensure safe, reliable and high-quality LTSS in a range of care settings that meet the varied needs of older adults and families.
  • Learning from, complementing and informing other state and national efforts to improve the LTSS system.

Project partners will conduct listening sessions as well as field a statewide survey of older adults and family caregivers, with emphasis on those from Black and brown communities. Data gathered from these activities, combined with a set of key stakeholder interviews, will ground the development of recommendations for the policy and practice change necessary to create an LTSS system that delivers high quality care to older adults and family caregivers across Massachusetts.

Project partners will then support older adults/caregiver leaders as they share their insights on LTSS reform with policymakers and the public. They will also share strategies and lessons with advocates, older adults and family caregivers working to reform the LTSS system in other states and nationally.

For more information or to participate in this important effort, please contact:

Renée Markus Hodin, Deputy Director, Center for Consumer Engagement in Health Innovation rmhodin@communitycatalyst.org

Carolyn Villers, Executive Director Massachusetts Senior Action Council cvillers@masssenioraction.org

Marc A. Cohen, Ph.D. Professor, Department of Gerontology, UMass Boston; Co-Director, LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston   marc.cohen@umb.edu

Dean David Cash announces retirement of Institute Director Len Fishman

I write to announce that Len Fishman, after serving seven years as director of the Gerontology Institute at the McCormack Graduate School of Policy and Global Studies, will be retiring on August 31.

Gerontology Institute Director Len Fishman

A nationally recognized leader in health care and aging, Len’s priorities as director were guided by two goals. First, increasing the institute’s relevance, reputation and influence through its research and policy work. Second, boosting external funding.

He achieved both. Thanks to the Institute’s enterprising faculty and fellows, external funding from grants nearly tripled during Fishman’s tenure, and private donations soared. Financial support for students increased two and a half times, opening doors for future scholars and policymakers.

Fishman also helped the Institute become even more prominent in its signature areas of research on older people, including economic insecurity, race- and ethnicity-related health disparities, healthy aging, and age-friendly communities, while striving to bring that work to the attention of policymakers and the general public through robust communication.

The Gerontology Institute also deepened its expertise in long-term services and supports (LTSS) under Fishman by adding a fourth center — the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston. This three-way partnership among Community Catalyst, LeadingAge and UMass Boston unites researchers and policy analysts in academic and applied settings, an innovative collaboration illustrative of Len’s knack for building strategic alliances whose whole is greater than the sum of their parts.

Fishman and Gerontology Department Chair Jeff Burr treated their respective units as a united enterprise, resulting in increased productivity of faculty and more opportunities for students to conduct research, be mentored, and earn money for their education. Fishman and Burr led the recent effort to establish the Frank Caro Scholarship for Social Justice in Aging. Named after one of the UMass Boston Gerontology program’s founders, the fund has raised approximately $370,000 thus far. The funds will be used to recruit and support doctoral students from under-served communities.

“The last seven years have been the best years for gerontology at UMass Boston and a lot, a lot, a lot of the credit goes to Len,” Burr said.

Len came to UMass Boston after serving for 12 years as CEO of Hebrew SeniorLife, New England’s largest nonprofit provider of senior housing and health care. Prior to joining HSL, Len was president and CEO of LeadingAge, in Washington, D.C., which represents 6,000 non-profit senior housing and health care providers in the U.S. and Canada, serving over two million older people. Before that, he served in the cabinet of Governor Christine Todd Whitman as commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, where he led the governor’s initiative to unite programs serving older people into one cabinet-level department. He previously practiced law as a health-care lawyer in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

“We are on the cusp of the greatest demographic transformation in history,” said Fishman. “The human lifespan has increased by more than a third, and very soon, one in five Americans will be 65 or older. Yet we are nowhere near ready to meet the challenges or take advantage of the opportunities presented by these changes. Our gerontology program is a beacon of learning and hope.”

“I will, of course, remain involved in the field of aging. As our chancellor, Marcelo Suarez-Orozco recently observed, population aging is one of the three greatest challenges facing humanity. My generation (me included) has not covered itself in glory in dealing with the other two: climate change and racialized inequity. My retirement will allow me to spend more time on both. It’s been an honor to work with the Gerontology program’s talented faculty, fellows, staff and students, and a privilege to work at the nation’s third most diverse university during this most recent racial reckoning. The demographics of UMass Boston’s students are a preview of what our nation is becoming – they are my greatest source of hope for the future.”

Celebrate the New Year with a Free Film Series

Programs offering community for older adults available online through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at UMass Boston

Watching a funny movie and discussing it with others may seem like an activity we can’t participate in given the Covid-19 pandemic. But, the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at UMass Boston has a film series to keep you engaged and connected all winter. The films are free and available for anyone to download from home.

Jim Hermelbracht

This January and February, OLLI is pleased to offer prospective and current members several programs free of charge to be enjoyed in the comfort and safety of your home. Part of UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute, OLLI provides lifelong learning, trips, and social activities for individuals over age 50.

“We are creating opportunities for all members — and future members — to stay engaged during the winter,” says Jim Hermelbracht, Director of OLLI at UMass Boston. “All programs will be held via Zoom and are free.”

Winter programs take place in January and February and are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Members are encouraged to use the OLLI online registration system to sign up for events. Non-members interested in exploring OLLI’s programs or the winter film series should contact the OLLI office (ollireg@gmail.com) to register.

This year’s winter film series, “Exploring Humor: How Funny Is It?” runs for six weeks, beginning Tuesday, January 12. The movies are all free and available on Kanopy. Attendees may choose to watch films any time and join the group on Zoom for discussion and conversation each Tuesday at 12:30 pm or watch the film with others via Zoom at 10:30 am. Instructions to download the movies will be provided. Continue reading

Help for locating your “lost” 401(k) account

No one intentionally loses money or leaves it behind. Yet, Americans have left billions of dollars in unclaimed 401(k) accounts. You may have changed jobs and, in the rush to wrap things up or accommodate a move to another state, neglected to take your account information with you.

Regardless of how or when this happened, there are a number of steps you can take to try to recover your account. The Pension Action Center at UMass Boston’s Gerontology Institute provides free legal counseling to people living in one of the six New England states and Illinois and has successfully helped people recoup more than $60 million in retirement benefits. While not always a simple task, they can help you to locate your 401(k).

“People lose track of their 401(k) for a variety of reasons,” says Anna-Marie Tabor. “But, there are steps you can take to track down and claim your money. It may take some time and research, but this is money you earned and saved for your retirement.  When it’s time to retire, you will be glad you invested the time to try and locate it now.”

Among the first steps to take, make sure that you did not already cash out or rollover your 401(k) years ago. Reach out to your former employer.

“Keeping your 401(k) statements and previous tax returns provides you with some paperwork to document that you have an account,” says Tabor. “Your old paystubs may also show that you contributed to a 401(k).” Continue reading

Direct care workers experience pandemic challenges, but rate employer preparation, communication high: study

Originally published in McKight’s Senior Living on 11/19/2020

By Kimberly Bonvissuto

Direct care workers have encountered many work-related challenges during the pandemic, but they say their employers have prepared them and communicated well about COVID-19, according to the results of a recent study.

Researchers with the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston discussed the study, which explored the overall stress and specific challenges direct care workers experience during COVID-19, their perceived preparedness and the quality of their employers’ communications around the pandemic, Wednesday during a presentation at the LeadingAge Annual Meeting Virtual Experience.

Verena Cimarolli, PhD

The study involved 852 current and former direct care workers in 45 organizations across the country, representing assisted living, independent living, home- and community based services, nursing homes and healthcare services. Responses were drawn from specific research questions embedded in ongoing WeCare Connect surveys used by 155 aging services providers across the country.

Verena Cimarolli, Ph.D., a senior health services research associate at the LTSS Center, said the most frequently reported work-related challenges direct workers reported were an increased risk of transmission of the virus to or from residents, workload demands and understaffing.

A higher percentage of workers who resigned their position (31%) reported a lack of personal protective equipment as an issue compared with current employees (19%). A “strikingly higher” percentage of workers (24%), Cimarolli said, reported that a lack of protocols or guidance from organizations about caring for residents was a challenge compared with current employees (8%). Continue reading

Obamacare’s unexpected bonus: How the Affordable Care Act is Helping Middle-Aged Americans During the Pandemic

This article originally appeared on The Conversation website. Marc Cohen is co-director of the LeadingAge LTSS Center @UMass Boston. Jane Tavares is a research fellow at the center. 

By Marc Cohen and Jane Tavares

Ten years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration is now asking the Supreme Court to overturn it. Yet it’s now clear that the ACA has brought significant improvements to the lives of millions of Americans. Today, they enjoy more health care coverage, with greater access, better outcomes and less cost.

One segment in particular gained the most: pre-Medicare adults from ages 50 to 64. Before the ACA, the number of uninsured in that group reached 8.9 million people. Insurance companies rejected more than one in five of their applications. Those who remained uninsured received fewer basic clinical services. They were more likely to experience health declines. Continue reading

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

Zoom Boom: Gerontology Department Moves Online to Conduct 5 Virtual PhD Dissertation Defenses in 4 Days

The new dissertation defense (pets welcome): Clockwise from top left PhD candidate Hayley Gleason defending her dissertation, professor Edward Miller, associate professor Kathrin Boerner, PhD student Molly Wylie, LeadingAge LTSS Center @Mass Boston co-director Robyn Stone and Brandeis University professor Christine Bishop.

Years of work, study and preparation came down to this final step: Defending PhD dissertations to a series of faces on a computer screen.

Conversing with images of people, arranged like tiles on an electronic board, had become a suddenly familiar experience for millions of people as Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms replaced live gatherings amid the growing coronavirus threat. No doubt many PhD dissertation defenses took place that way as campuses shut down across the country in March.

But the UMass Boston Gerontology Department’s busy schedule put that virtual work-around to a serious test: Five remote dissertation defenses in a span of four days. Three of them took place through the morning and early afternoon of a single day.

PhD candidates Andrea Daddato, Danielle Waldron and Hayley Gleason all defended their dissertations on March 31. Yijung Kim followed on April 2 and Haowei Wang defended the following day. All were successful. Continue reading

Who cares for those most vulnerable to COVID-19? 4 questions about home care aides answered

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared on The Conversation website. 

The elderly and those recovering from surgeries are among the most vulnerable to becoming seriously ill as a result of COVID-19. An army of 3.5 million home care aides are responsible for taking care of them and others who need help, whether in homes or assisted care facilities. Marc Cohen, Robyn Stone and Christian Weller, gerontology and public policy researchers at the University of Massachusetts Boston, have been studying this group and explain who they are – as well as their vulnerabilities.

1. What do home care aides do?

Home care aides are a crucial part of our health care system for people who need extra help. They play a critical role in helping address and manage the potentially catastrophic impacts of the current pandemic on seniors and those living with disabilities. Continue reading

How Gerontology Classmates Became Published Research Team Working on Course Project

Jeffrey Stokes

Jeffrey Stokes

They started out as four UMass Boston gerontology students taking a standard graduate course, Families in Later Life. Before long, the classmates developed into a research team.

Assistant professor Jeff Stokes was teaching the course in the spring semester of 2019 and he quickly realized the unusually small class – consisting entirely of those four students – presented a rare opportunity.

Rather than assigning students to prepare individual final papers, Stokes suggested they could collaborate on a single research project. He put it to a vote and the decision was unanimous.

Stokes talked with students Celeste Beaulieu, Cindy Bui, Elizabeth Gallagher and Remona Kanyat about a topic that would interest them all and reached a quick agreement.

They prepared a draft article by the end of the semester and a final version of “For better or for worse: Marital status transitions and sexual life in middle and later life” was recently published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships. Continue reading