Michael Volpe

Steadily Building on What Came Before

“Advocacy has taught me that change comes very slowly with many challenges and setbacks. It has also taught me that very powerful changes can only come through patient, never ceasing efforts of advocacy.”

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This persevering attitude is what has allowed Mike Volpe to adjust to the ever-changing challenges his Primary-Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (MS) presents and to be an outspoken and effective advocate on advancing health equity and reforming the health care system to address the social determinants of health.

Mike’s journey into health advocacy began after having to resign from his position teaching English as a Second Language as a result of the progression of his MS. Having experienced the difference in quality of life environment can provide after moving from Minnesota to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, and understanding the challenges people with disabilities face in remaining independent, he decided to dedicate his time to advocating on behalf of people with disabilities. He particularly focused on those receiving long-term services and supports (LTSS), with a commitment to build on the legacy of the advocates that came before him.

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“Oregon was the first state in the country to convince the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to allow a waiver that provides the necessary assistance for people with substantial disabilities to live in their own homes. This was revolutionary but it took years of advocacy to accomplish this goal,” he says. “I have lived in my own home with substantial assistance for 25 years due to the advocacy of the individuals that worked so hard in the 1970s and 1980s.”

“Unfortunately, most advocacy issues for people with disabilities are not well known,” he says. “If issues important to people with disabilities, like adequate accessible parking, employment, and adequate, affordable accessible housing received more publicity, more people with disabilities might find it easier to become more involved in advocacy work.”

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Previously, Mike served on the governor-appointed State Independent Living Council, which offered people with disabilities control over the design of Oregon’s independent living program services and the Oregon Home Care Commission, supporting homecare workers, personal support workers and consumer/employers.

Currently, Mike is involved with Oregon’s health system transformation efforts to provide more holistic care through coordinated care organizations (CCOs). He serves on the Community Advisory Council for his regional CCO which is tasked with identifying and advocating for preventive care practices. He also serves on the governor-appointed Oregon Disabilities Commission which acts as a coordinating link between and among public and private organizations serving individuals with disabilities. Its mission is to secure economic, social, legal and political justice for individuals with disabilities through systems change.

As his colleague Rebekah Fowler wrote, “While Mike can no longer stand, nor walk, and while his voice must be amplified by a microphone, Mike always stands up for the rights and wellbeing of others; and his voice is heard loud and clear.”