Eldercare Voices: Health and Aging Policy Fellows - Training Future Leaders to Address Health Care Needs of Older Americans

Harold A. Pincus, MD

While Americans are living longer, healthier lives, many of them face mounting health care and other challenges with advancing age. In the light of profound demographic changes, many of the issues confronting older Americans cannot be solved by research and education alone but require large-scale policy changes at the federal, state, local and even global levels. The Health and Aging Policy Fellows (HAPF) Program was established in 2008 to contribute actively to solutions in the policy arena by educating the next generation of health and aging policy ‘change agents.’ The program is funded by The John A. Hartford Foundation, The Atlantic Philanthropies and the West Health Policy Center. In its eleventh year, the Fellowship Program has had 128 Fellows to date, and is accepting applications through April 15 for the 2019-2020 program year.

The year-long fellowship offers an extensive and unique training and enrichment program to create a cadre of leaders with the skills, experience and networks necessary to influence policies and improve the lives of older Americans. The cornerstone of the fellowship is the hands-on experience Fellows obtain through a placement (residential or non-residential) with federal and state agencies and organizations, congressional offices, consumer advocacy groups and think tanks. The Residential Track includes a full-time placement of up to a year while the Non-Residential Track allows Fellows to remain at their home institution, dedicating at least 20 percent of their time to a project related to health policy and aging in collaboration with a government agency or a non-governmental policy organization, including Community Catalyst. The project can have a global, federal, state or community focus. A newly established Behavioral Health Track provides an additional opportunity for both residential and non-residential Fellows to influence policy at the intersection of aging and mental health and substance use disorders.

All Fellows participate in a series of seminars and workshops throughout the fellowship year, including a five-week orientation in Washington, D.C., organized with AcademyHealth, the National Program Office of the HAPF Program, American Political Science Association (APSA), The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the Veterans Health Administration. The program’s reach and the lasting success of our fellows is further expanded through a broad range of strong partnerships (e.g., Veterans Health Administration, CMS, Administration for Community Living, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and many other agencies, Senate and House congressional offices, think tanks and advocacy groups. Throughout the course of the Fellowship, Community Catalyst has been an important partner in terms of mentorship and placement opportunities

Alignment of the Fellows’ interest and ongoing mentoring throughout the fellowship are essential factors for a successful experience. Many of our Fellows and alumni are and have been at the forefront of addressing major policy issues including geriatric work force shortages, elder abuse, integration of mental health care, age discrimination in organ transplantation, value-based care, quality and patient safety, guardianship, end-of-life care, as well as housing, transportation and nutrition policies.

Our 15 2018-19 Health and Aging Policy Fellows are following in the footsteps of their peers, working on a diverse range of aging-related issues at the national, state and community level. Six of our current fellows have placements in Congress (House of Representatives and Senate committees, leadership and member offices) addressing wide-ranging issues, including long-term care benefits under Medicare, rural hospital needs, state Medicaid expansion, Social Security, health information technology, prescription drug pricing and protecting the ACA. One of our Fellows is focusing on policies at the state level while another one will be working with Community Catalyst. Many of our Fellows are working on initiatives in executive branch agencies, including the Administration for Community Living, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Centers for Medicaid/Medicare Services and Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Areas of focus at the executive branch level include palliative care, eCare health planning, family caregiving and development of healthy aging resources.

The leaders emerging from the HAPF Program possess the knowledge, experience and skills to positively impact health and aging policymaking and have demonstrated that impact both during and after the Fellowship. Many of our alumni have become actively involved in health policy at national and local levels. Many have assumed leadership roles in health care organizations and policy settings inside and outside of government at local, state and national levels, including serving as congressional staff, becoming spokespersons, publishing key papers on major policy issues, and taking on policy and advocacy roles in professional organizations.

Health and Aging Policy Fellows constitute a network of individuals who, individually and collectively, are poised to help shape policies that address the complex health needs of an aging American society. Recent funding from the West Health Institute has enabled us to establish an Alumni Program to support Fellows in collaborating on critical policy issues and continue to make an impact beyond their fellowship year.

The Health and Aging Policy Fellows Program has recently received funding from The John A. Hartford Foundation for another four years of program support. We invite interested individuals to apply for the 2019-2020 class to continue this legacy of excellence! The deadline for applications is April 15, 2019.

For more information about the Health and Aging Policy Fellows Program, please contact the National Program Office: hapfell@nyspi.columbia.edu or 646-774-5495. 

Harold Alan Pincus, MD, is Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Psychiatry, Co-Director of the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at Columbia University and the New York State Psychiatric Institute. Dr. Pincus also serves as a Senior Scientist at the RAND Corporation. Previously, he was Director of the RAND-University of Pittsburgh Health Institute and Executive Vice Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh. He is the National Director of the Health and Aging Policy Fellowship, supported by West Health Institute, The John A. Hartford Foundation and Atlantic Philanthropies. Earlier, Dr. Pincus was Deputy Medical Director of the American Psychiatric Association and founding director of APA’s Office of Research, was the Special Assistant to the Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, and served on White House and Congressional staffs as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholar. Dr. Pincus has been appointed to the editorial boards of 12 scientific journals and published over 500 scientific publications in health services research, science policy, research career development, quality of care and the diagnosis, classification and treatment of mental disorders. Dr. Pincus was the 2017 recipient of the C. Charles Burlingame Award by the Institute of Living for outstanding contributions to the field of psychiatry and has received the Menninger Award from the American College of Physicians, among other honors. He worked one evening a week for twenty-two years at a public mental health clinic caring for patients with severe mental illnesses.