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.”

Elder Index at Work: Helping Boston’s Age-Friendly Plan Take Aim at Economic Insecurity

This article is one in a series of stories about how people across the country are using the Elder Index to understand the true cost of living for older adults and its economic implications. If you know someone who would like to receive information about these stories, send us a note at gerontologyinstitute@umb.edu.

Go to any city across America and you will find older adults struggling to make ends meet. Go to Boston and you will see some of the most serious elder economic insecurity problems in the nation.

This is not news at Boston’s Age Strong Commission, which first launched an ambitious age-friendly plan in 2017. The commission is now developing a Step 2 blueprint with a focus on the problem of economic security among older residents. A critical tool for that job: The Elder Index. Continue reading

Reach Out Massachusetts Mobilizes Communities to Combat Social Isolation

The desire to spend time alone is a natural and even healthy urge. But, seeking time alone and social isolation, are not the same.

Social isolation — defined as a lack of social connections — is considered a serious public health risk and can impair one’s physical and mental health. Older adults are at increased risk for social isolation because they are more likely to have lost a spouse and close friends, live alone, suffer from a chronic illness, or have limited mobility.

To combat this devastating public health problem, the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston and AARP Massachusetts have created a resource guide highlighting ways in which many Massachusetts cities and towns are already addressing social isolation in their communities. The guide is the first completed project of the Massachusetts Task Force to End Loneliness & Build Community. The task force is co-led by Sandra Harris, president of AARP Massachusetts, and Caitlin Coyle, Ph.D., the lead author of the resource guide and a research fellow at the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston. Continue reading

UMass Becomes First University System to Join the Age-Friendly University Global Network

BOSTON – In August 2019, the five-campus University of Massachusetts system endorsed the 10 principles of the Age-Friendly University, as defined by Age-Friendly University (AFU) Global Network at Dublin City University, joining an international effort intended to highlight the role of higher education in responding to the challenges and opportunities associated with an aging population.

UMass is the first university system to join the AFU Global Network, earning the designation for its campuses in Amherst, Dartmouth, Lowell and the UMass Medical School in Worcester. UMass Boston endorsed the principles and joined the network in 2017.

“I’m pleased that with the support of all five of our chancellors, UMass has received this designation as an Age-Friendly University,” said President Marty Meehan. “It reaffirms our long-held commitment to making a world-class public research university education accessible to all people in the Commonwealth, regardless of age.” 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

The Age-Friendly Movement: How it Grew and What Plans for an Older Future Could Achieve

The age-friendly movement is being embraced in small towns, cities and even states across the country. All of them see populations growing older and recognize that they must adapt. They are assessing needs and creating plans so their communities will be great places for residents of all ages to live in the future. The Gerontology Institute Blog invited three of the leading age-friendly voices in Massachusetts to discuss the movement — what it has achieved and where it is going.

Michael Festa is the Massachusetts state director of AARP, the leader in developing age-friendly community networks across the country.  Nora Moreno Cargie is president of the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, a leading supporter of work in healthy living with an emphasis on older adults. Jan Mutchler is director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at the University of Massachusetts Boston. Her center works directly with communities across the state to assess age-friendly needs and develop action plans to address them. The following is an edited version of their conversation.

Q: Mike, AARP recently designated Massachusetts the nation’s second age-friendly state. How did that happen and what does it mean?

Michael Festa: It means Massachusetts is in a place where all departments of state government – not just public health and human services, but in all aspects – are committing to a process in which an age-friendly lens is applied. But the application also asks what you are doing already that is reflective of that commitment. There are a lot of things going on in communities with the age-friendly initiative. You already have a coordination of professional associations like planning councils and other groups. AARP asks, is this state in a place where we can acknowledge it is age-friendly or in the process of achieving all it is aspiring to do? The reality of what is happening in Massachusetts made it quite easy for AARP to say yes.

Nora Moreno Cargie: I would add just to that the Governor’s Council to Address Aging in Massachusetts. There’s this statewide body, to Gov. Baker’s credit. We talk to ourselves about ourselves — here you have three people who are involved in age-friendly stuff. What the governor recognized is that we had to talk to people in transportation and housing and those other areas, so that they could also become aware of what was necessary to achieve this age-friendly work.

Q: Local age-friendly planning is taking place all over the state. How did it become so popular on the municipal level?

Jan Mutchler: This whole initiative took off because there was an interest in doing something innovative, but there hadn’t been a name for it or models for it. It’s been so successful here because there were early adopters and the publicity about this being an initiative that had a name and a framework attached to it. People are excited and moving ahead because it’s been where they wanted to go all along. Communities approach all of this with very different capacities. We’re seeing a huge range needs for guidance and support. Continue reading

Boston Age-Friendly Action Plan Developed With Gerontology Institute Research

Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the city’s Elderly Commission have launched the first-ever Age-Friendly Boston Action Plan. He called it a blueprint to make Boston the best city and place to live for older adults within three years.

The 75 action items in the plan were developed through 25 listening sessions, featuring engagement from over 4,000 older residents throughout the city developed in partnership with the University of Massachusetts Boston, AARP and the Tufts Health Plan Foundation.

The Elderly Commission formed a partnership with the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston’s McCormack Graduate School, supported by a grant from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, to conduct research based on the guidelines set forth by the World Health Organization. Grounded in community feedback, the plan identifies recommendations and action items the City will take to enhance the quality of life for Boston’s older adult residents. Continue reading