A Busy Summer: Fellowship Gave UMB Gerontology PhD Student a Role in Boston’s Efforts to Back Housing With Services for Older Adults

Setarreh MassihzadeganHow can cities analyze the costs of providing supportive housing for older adults and evaluate proposals from developers seeking municipal support?  The not-so-surprising answer: It’s complicated.

Ask Setarreh Massihzadegan, who began her second year in UMass Boston’s Gerontology PhD program this month. She spent the past summer working through exactly that challenge.

While completing her first year as a PhD student, Massihzadegan applied for the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston’s Public Policy Summer Fellowship. The program led her to a position at the Neighborhood Housing Development Division within the City of Boston’s Department of Neighborhood Development (DND).

The job: A deep dive into the operating expense details of affordable housing plus services for older adults in Boston. Massihzadegan researched those operating costs, then created a descriptive analysis of her findings to support DND’s process of evaluating developer requests for support and to inform future underwriting policies at the department.

She also provided recommendations that led to changes to the city’s annual Request for Proposals covering housing development assistance this year. Continue reading

New School Year, New Leadership at UMass Boston Gerontology Program

Gerontology students at the University of Massachusetts Boston are returning to school, greeted by some familiar faces in new leadership roles.

Professor Edward Alan Miller is the new chair of the UMass Boston Gerontology Department, succeeding professor Jeffrey Burr. Professor Jan Mutchler has become the new director of the Gerontology Institute, taking over for the retiring Len Fishman.

Professor Kathrin Boerner is the new Graduate Program Director for the PhD Program in Gerontology and the MS in Gerontology Research/Policy, a position Miller had held for eight years.

Edward Alan Miller

Edward Alan Miller

Miller is beginning his role as department chair by welcoming about 50 PhD students and more than 100 master’s and certificate students in the Management of Aging Services program to a new school year. Six new PhD students in the program come to UMass Boston from Ghana, Kenya, China, South Korea, California and New Hampshire.

“I’m honored that my colleagues chose me as the new chair of the Gerontology Department,” said Miller. “I’m excited by the opportunity to further elevate UMass Boston as a leading institution addressing the challenges and opportunities posed by an aging population.” Continue reading

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

New Report Ranks Elder Economic Insecurity in 100 Largest U.S. Metro Areas

Jan MutchlerOlder adults in every one of America’s large metropolitan areas face serious challenges affording their local cost of living. But the scale of economic insecurity varies dramatically, depending on what city those older adults call home.

A new report by University of Massachusetts Boston professor Jan Mutchler and graduate assistant Yang Li uses the Elder Index™ to analyze the cost of a no-frills elder budget in each of the nation’s 384 metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), where 83 percent of older Americans live. They also tracked income levels of older adults in the 100 largest metro areas to determine what percentage of elders in those cities had insufficient income to afford their local cost of living without help.

They found a wide range of elder economic insecurity levels among both older individuals and couples living in the larger metro areas. More than 67 percent of older individuals in the Texas metro area covering McAllen, Edinburg and Mission did not have enough income to meet local expenses on their own, the highest rate among the 100 largest MSAs. Continue reading

Boston’s Older Population: Increasing in Racial Diversity, but Quality of Life is Shaped by Racism, Discrimination

A new report from UMass Boston identifies aging equity among Boston residents

The number of Boston residents aged 60 and older has increased by more than one-third in the last eight years and more than half of older residents are persons of color. However the experiences of these older residents differ substantially depending on race, ethnicity and gender, and challenges their abilities to thrive.

A new report, “Aging Strong for All: Examining Aging Equity in the City of Boston,” by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Boston, documents disparities across three dimensions that impact quality of life — economic security, health, social engagement — and identifies opportunities for stakeholders to ensure an environment in which “aging strong” is possible for all Boston residents. Jan Mutchler

“It has never been more critical to strategically pursue greater equity in the aging experience of Boston residents,” says Jan Mutchler, PhD, director of the Center for Social and Demographic Research on Aging at UMass Boston, a professor in the Department of Gerontology and one of the study’s authors. “The numbers of older adults are increasing and stakeholders share a growing recognition of the powerful ways in which inequity, racism, and discrimination shape health outcomes and the aging experience, amplifying the need to examine and remediate disparities in aging.”

The report identifies substantial disparities across racial and ethnic groups, such as:

Economic security

  • Poverty rates are especially high among Asian Americans and Latinos, and more than one-third of these residents age 60 or older live in households with incomes below the federal poverty line.
  • Sizable gaps differentiate racial groups. For example, while a similar share of non-Hispanic White, Black and Native American people aged 66 or older receive Social Security benefits, percentages receiving Social Security are considerably lower for Latinos and Asian Americans.
  • Housing costs in Boston place a heavy burden on older residents and half or more of renters age 60 or older pay more than 30% of their incomes for housing. Fewer homeowners bear such a heavy cost burden for housing, but older Black, Latino and Native American homeowners are at amplified risk for being cost-burdened.

Continue reading

Transforming the Future of Aging

Bei Wu works toward improving health status through research and policy

If the world of academic gerontology had a rock star, it would be Bei Wu, MS ‘97, PhD ’00.

Recognized for her extensive research and pursued by top tier universities, Wu has become an international leader in the field since graduating from the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Department of Gerontology. Add the years in policy work before earning her doctorate and Wu chuckles that, having spent more than half of her life in the field of gerontology, she herself is now experiencing the aging process.

“I’ve become my own study subject,” Wu says.

Today, Wu is the Director of Global Health and Aging Research at the Rory Meyers College of Nursing, and Director for Research at the Hartford Institute for Geriatric Nursing at New York University (NYU) and the inaugural co-director of NYU’s Aging Incubator, a university-wide aging initiative.

Given her considerable success in gerontology, it’s fitting she credits her grandmother — with whom she was extremely close — for nudging her into the field. Born in Shanghai, Wu’s parents left her and her brother in their grandparents’ care when the two were young. After college, Wu accepted a research position with the Shanghai Commission on Aging only after prompting by her grandmother.

“At the time, very few people thought aging would be a challenging issue in the future,” Wu says.

But writing policy briefs and launching studies on intergenerational support with the United Nations Population Fund convinced Wu to pursue graduate studies. With no options available in China, she chose UMass Boston.

“UMass Boston has had a significant impact on my career,” Wu says. “The gerontology program has a critical mass of excellent faculty.” Continue reading

Book Investigates the Pandemic and its impact on Older Adults

Journal of Aging and Social Policy special edition examines scope,
impact and lessons drawn from Covid-19 for older adults

A special double-issue of the Journal of Aging and Social Policy (JASP) that focused on Covid-19 has been released as a book. “Older Adults and Covid-19: Implications for Aging Policy and Practice” provides 28 articles written by leading gerontology researchers. The authors offer perspectives from around the globe on a host of issues surrounding the virus and its impact on older adults, their families, caregivers, and communities.

Edward Alan Miller

Editor-in-chief Edward A. Miller

Originally published in June 2020, this issue’s release as a book by Taylor & Francis Publishing indicates that the critical questions raised and the policy changes proposed to protect this vulnerable population moving forward deserve continued attention.

“This book is important because nearly everything addressed in the special issue six months ago is still relevant today which reflects poorly in our response as a nation,” said Edward Alan Miller, PhD, a professor at UMass Boston and editor-in-chief of JASP.

As Miller points out in the book’s introduction, older adults have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Exposure to the virus has resulted in older adults dying in disproportionately higher numbers, especially in long-term care facilities. Government-mandated actions to lessen the impact of the virus on older adults have had adverse consequences such as increased social isolation, separation from family members, enhanced economic risk, and challenges getting basic needs met. Continue reading

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

Elder Index at Work: Helping Advocates Address Healthcare Affordability in Washington State

multigeneration portraitThis 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.

By Taryn Hojlo

Medicare is an important resource for millions of older Americans, but that benefit isn’t free and it certainly doesn’t eliminate all other healthcare expenses elders face.

In Washington State, more than a million people were enrolled for Medicare benefits in 2018 and that number has been climbing, as it has across the country as the United States continues to grow older. Some of those people have found Medicare a particular economic challenge.

Northwest Health Law Advocates, a non-profit organization based in Seattle, is focused on older Washington residents who saw some existing healthcare-related benefits eliminated once they enrolled in Medicare. Recently, it has been using the University of Massachusetts Boston’s Elder Index to supplement research and advocacy work around the issue.

“We call it the Medicare cliff,” said Ann Vining, a staff attorney at the organization that has been advocating for affordable, quality health care for all Washington residents since 1999. “If you’re in some relatively lower income brackets, you have some access to some subsidies that you lose when you go onto Medicare.” Continue reading