Embracing Older Americans Month by Serving Up Food Security for Older Adults

Photo credit: Flickr.com creative commons

May is Older Americans Month (#OAM19) and this year’s theme is “Connect, Create and Contribute,” a mantra the Center has been taking to heart as we roll out the second round of our Consumer Voices for Innovation (CVI 2.0) grants targeting social determinants of health and their impacts on various consumer populations. While all of our grantees in this program are working to organize consumers around innovative health system transformation efforts to improve the lives of low-income consumers, people of color, and people with disabilities, two of our state partners have developed projects specifically designed to meet the unique needs of older adults.

Massachusetts Senior Action Council (MSAC) will be working over the next two years to improve food security among low-income older adults by pushing the state to integrate the application process for Medicaid and SNAP benefits, and to require Aging Services Access Points and Special Needs Plans serving dually eligible older adults to incorporate application/recertification assistance and transportation and meal delivery into their standard services. As Carolyn Villers, MSAC Executive Director, notes, “Connecting older adults with the resources that help meet their basic needs is critical for their health and well-being and enables them to age in place with dignity.” Most of MSAC’s 1,200 members are between the ages of 65 and 85, with a nearly equal number age 65 to 75 and age 75 to 85; almost all lack the resources needed to support basic needs such as food, shelter  and health care; approximately 75% are women, 35% have a disability and 30% are African-American.

These are folks who have every reason to distrust a system that hasn’t worked well for them or has, in some cases, plainly shut them out. But rather than turning away in frustration, they are working to create pathways to improve government systems and programs, sharing their stories with elected officials and administration leaders, and demanding the stability and security every person is entitled to. Every day, these older adults contribute their time, energy, passion and voices to ensuring that they, their friends and their neighbors have the resources they need to thrive, while building a remarkable advocacy community themselves along the way. We’re hopeful that this project will lead to significant system changes that advance access and quality-of-life pursuits for older adults in Massachusetts.

Simultaneously, Maine People’s Resource Center (MPRC) will be working to organize low-income older adults, home care workers, immigrant small business owners and others around a shared policy agenda designed to improve the health system’s responsiveness to the nutrition and transportation needs of older adult health care consumers. Amy Halsted, MPRC Co-Director, explains “We know that among the most important determinants of health outcomes for seniors is their access to food security and transportation. Unfortunately, Medicare does not cover the cost of non-emergency transportation for seniors, often times even for things as directly relevant to their health care as doctor’s appointments. Asset tests prevent seniors from being able to access food assistance, and waiting lists for home-delivered meals prevent even seniors eligible for assistance from being able to access what they need.”

By leveraging the tethered relationships between patients and home care workers, food venders and consumers, transportation service providers and riders, this project seeks to directly connect the interests of impacted, but yet un-activated business and community members with those of older adults in need of services, and organize these groups for collective action. In order to do this, MPRC will be organizing older adult consumer leaders whose experiences with food insecurity and inaccessible transportation illustrate the need for deeper investments in services, and training them to effectively advocate for their needs.

These consumer leaders, like those who worked on Maine’s universal homecare ballot initiative last year, will be central to creating the public/private coalitions that will make this project successful, particularly older adult consumers who are also immigrants or who have relationships with the immigrant small-business owners who provide many of the homecare, food and transportation contracted services in the state. It is these connections that make MPRC’s project both unique and exciting as a model for organizing, and it is our hope that among its benefits will be the contribution of a number of important lessons for organizing immigrant communities as both consumers and service providers in the health care landscape.

We’re proud of the work so many of our partners have done, and continue to do each day, to prioritize the needs of older adults in their policy and advocacy work, and we’re looking forward to doing our part to ensure that MSAC and MPRC have the resources they need to achieve their goals for these projects.

Be on the lookout for updates on our progress here and check out our other blog post highlights for Older Americans Month here and here.

This is the first in a series of blogs about the Center’s Consumer Voices for Innovation (CVI 2.0) program.  Watch this space to learn about the innovative work of our other CVI 2.0 state partners!