Throughout my career in aging, I have worked for and with community-based agencies. I know how essential these agencies are in helping older people remain well and in their homes by providing and coordinating needed supportive services.
These critical services for older people who have difficulty with daily tasks or younger people with disabilities include home delivered meals, shopping, cooking, bathing, bill paying and/or emotional support, as well as support for their caregivers. In-home assessments determine exactly what is needed for each individual and their family.
The agencies providing these services have always operated on slim budgets funded by federal block grants and philanthropy. Due to funding limits, there are months-long waiting lists for older people who are desperately trying to remain as independent as possible for as long as possible in their own homes.
As Orson Welles might have said: “We will evaluate no program before its time.”
One of the first things you learn in “foundation school” is how easy it is to kill even great programs by evaluating them before they are ready.
Nothing innovative starts working on day one as well as it will with practice, adjustment, and refinement. Even more deadly is an evaluation with low-cost methods that doesn’t really provide the information you want and need. One of the painful lessons I’ve learned is to always buy the highest quality and therefore most expensive evaluation you can afford, because it’s cheaper in the long run.
Policy change is hard. Just think about the 2010 Affordable Care Act, its tortuous path toward enactment, and the ongoing debates five years later that swirl around the law and its implementation.
There are many theories for how policy change happens, but one of my favorites is Kingdon’s policy streams model. To simplify a bit, it proposes that a window of opportunity opens when three separate streams come together: a problem gets defined and recognized as such, viable solutions are available, and there is political will to match them up.
Except for the political will part (thank you, partisan gridlock), at first glance this might seem easy. But think about how often your problem is not seen as a problem by others. For years, we faced this challenge when it came to making the case that older adults don’t get the care they should because they have special needs that require specialized, geriatrics-expert knowledge. Because of this challenge and the constantly shifting political landscape, it’s important to have policy solutions at the ready for the time when the problem and politics streams come together.
We were introduced to Sally and her daughter Edna last year in a video from our grantee Community Catalyst. I learned recently that Sally has since passed away, but I am so grateful that her and her daughter’s story lives on.
It embodies the promise of the Voices for Better Health initiative, which advocates for quality care for low-income older adults and younger disabled people dually enrolled in both Medicare and Medicaid, as Sally was.
And fortunately, as states rapidly move to integrate Medicare and Medicaid financing and care for the “duals” population, advocates from Voices for Better Health and anyone concerned about people like Sally have a new resource.
Our health care system and policies reflect this short sightedness, as well. That’s why it’s been refreshing to see some provocative writing about these issues over the past few weeks that might help us all think and do more to live our final years in old age the way we would want.
Ever since I began working as a program officer at the John A. Hartford Foundation, I’ve tried to do my best to put myself in the shoes of the health professionals with whom we’ve worked and whose education and training historically has been one of our main concerns.
I’ve often found memoirs and other lightly fictionalized accounts to be the best way to get into the culture and daily experience of these health professionals. I’ve read Samuel Shem’s The House of God, countless memoirs of nurses and physicians, and even a very affecting memoir of a nurse’s aide in a nursing home.
One of the tricks of such reading is that we experience what our imagination and the author’s words together conjure in a special state of willing suspension of disbelief. Psychological research suggests that this process of imagination and purposeful lowering of critical skepticism is, in fact, what makes fiction so persuasive and engenders the feeling that novelists understand a truth about human character that other ways of knowing can’t match.