Study Shows Meal Deliveries Positively Benefit Seniors

Published in Woonsocket Call on March 22, 2015

In 2013, Dr. Kali Thomas, an assistant professor at Brown University’s Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research, published a study that found home delivered meals can keep persons age 60 and older at home, allowing them to age in place.  The study’s data also indicated that some states would experience cost savings if they expanded meals on wheels because that could delay a Medicaid recipient’s entry into costly nursing home care.

The “More Than a Meal” pilot research study, conducted by Thomas, was released on March 2, 2015 the Alexandria, Virginia-based Meals on Wheels America, the oldest and largest national group representing over 5,000 community-based senior nutrition programs. The gerontologist found benefits far beyond basic nutrition identified by her earlier 2013 study — health and psychological benefits, too, particularly for those seniors who live alone.

Details of Groundbreaking Research Study

Thomas, contracted by Meals on Wheels America with funding provided by AARP Foundation, designed and executed the 15-week pilot study, involving over 600 older participants, in eight sites around the country, including the Ocean State.  Study participants either received personally delivered fresh meals daily, or weekly bulk deliveries of frozen meals, or just simply remained on a waiting list.

The Brown University researcher found those living alone who received meals showed statistically significant reductions in feelings of isolation, an effect that was greater if they received meals daily rather than weekly.  They also felt significantly less lonely, were less worried about staying in their homes, and said they felt safer. Those also receiving meals experienced fewer falls and hospitalizations.

Thomas said that based on her personal experience as a driver for Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island and as the family member of a meals recipient (her 98-year old grandmother), she was not at all surprised to see the positive benefits she observed anecdotally emerge as significant in a rigorous research study.

Elle Hollander, President and CEO on Wheels America, notes that her members have “faced tough choices forced by limited funding, rising costs, unprecedented demand and need, and increasingly for-profit competition.”  Hollander says, “We now have the research-backed evidence that confirms what we’ve all know for decades anecdotally through personal experience: that Meals on Wheels does in fact deliver so much more than just a meal.”

AARP State Director Kathleen Connell agrees.  “It really has been no secret that home-delivered meals are a critical for the older population, as well as the disabled. With  Kali Thomas’s earlier Brown data released in 2012 in our award-winning senior hunger documentary Hungry in the West End, the newest research reinforces what Thomas said in film: the nutritional benefits and relief from food preparation allows people to live in their homes longer and to stay healthier. And so, there are long term healthcare benefits as well as savings to the state if the investment in home-delivered meals delays someone’s transition from independence or home-based care into a Medicaid-supported nursing facility.”

A Call for More State Funding

Heather Amaral, Executive Director of Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island agrees with the benefits of visiting volunteers to the recipients, but stressing that the volunteer benefits, too, from the bond that develops. “There are many studies that show volunteering is good for your health and spirit, she says.

Amaral expresses pride that Rhode Island was selected as one of eight pilot sites in the study.  “This study proves what we’ve observed through the years—Meals on Wheels deliveries keeps people out of nursing homes and in their own homes longer,” she says.

According to Amaral, in 2014 Meals on Wheels of Rhode Island’s Home Delivered Meals program provided 316,524 meals to 2,298 individuals.  Over the years she has seen federal funding remain stagnant, while state funding has declined.  Last year’s budget allocated $200,000 to Meals on Wheels, down from $530,000 that was allocated by the General Assembly in 2006.   But, Governor Raimondo’s submitted budget does reinstate $ 330,000 more in funding, if approved by the Rhode Island General Assembly, she says.

Clearly, Governor Gina Raimondo recognizes the importance of Meals on Wheels as she begins to reshape Rhode Island’s long-term care continuum.  The Governor states, “Programs like Meals on Wheels are important investments. These programs are one of the strategies in our toolbox to keep people healthy and in their own homes. Particularly as we work to reinvent Medicaid to support better health outcomes and provide better value to taxpayers, we will continue to support programs like Meals on Wheels that help our most vulnerable seniors stay in their homes and in the community.”

The Rhode Island General Assembly must not be penny-wise and pound foolish.  Support the Governor’s budget to ratchet up funding for Meals on Wheels.  It is a sound policy move to put the breaks to spiraling Medicaid costs, by making the system more efficient and rooting out fraud and waste.   We must balance the State’s limited budget funds to keep older Rhode Islanders at home as long as possible.  But, if nursing home care is need, the Rhode Island General Assembly must allocate the necessary Medicaid funding to provide efficiently delivered quality of care.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

 

Rhode Island Can Hold Its Own When It Comes to Music

Published in Woonsocket Call, on March 15, 2015

New York, L.A. and Nashville have long been considered the music capitals of the United States. Now, with the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame gearing up for its fourth annual induction season, Little Rhody is poised to prove it has the right combination of musical talent to hold its own against these highly regarded music communities.

Next month, trombonist/composer George Masso and 12 others join an elite group of Rhode Island musicians: those who have been recognized not only for their major impact on Rhode Island’s music scene but also on the national stage. Cranston native Masso, along with the other new inductees, will be enshrined by the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF) at this year’s induction ceremonies and concert events. Every year the Pawtucket-based nonprofit, formed in 2011, celebrates, honors, and preserves the legacy of Ocean State musicians, educators, and industry professionals.

Rick Bellaire, RIMHOF Vice Chair and Archive director, says it was an easy choice to recognize the 88-year-old musician. “During his illustrious career, George has excelled in just about every area of the music business – trombonist, composer, pianist, recording artist, arranger and educator,” adding that the George played with many of the national big bands in the 1940s and ‘50s and has toured and recorded as a sideman with some of our greatest jazz legends including Benny Goodman, Bobby Hackett and The World’s Greatest Jazz Band.

According to Bellaire, Masso has also released more than a dozen albums as a leader which feature many of his own compositions. “He also taught music in the Cranston public schools for eleven years and another eight years at the University of Connecticut mentoring some of our finest musicians including RIMHOF inductees,” says Bellaire.

George Masso will be inducted into RIMHOF along with Mark Cutler and his bands, The Schemers and Raindogs; Brenda Bennett, Nelson Eddy, George Wein, Duke Belaire, Paco Zimmer; Georgie Porgie & The Cry Babies, The Others and The Ascots (recognizing the great Rhode Island garage bands of the ‘60s); and Bob Petteruti, Marty Ballou and Marty Richards (in the new “MVP sideman award” category).

“This year, we will be honored to have some of the most senior inductees with us,” he continued, “all of whom are still active participants on the music scene, including Mr. Masso, drummer/band leader Duke Belaire (83) and bassist/educator Bob Petteruti (85).”

The Music Hall of Fame initiative,” says Bellaire, “provides a great opportunity to not only acknowledge Rhode Island’s musical greats and celebrate their achievements, but to finally have an organization whose primary goal is to promote and preserve Rhode Island’s rich musical heritage in all its forms. With actual exhibit space, coupled with our online archive, we have in place the tools to curate and showcase the best of Rhode Island’s musical artistry.”

Adds Robert Billington, Chair of RIMHOF noted, “This year’s class of inductees is especially amazing due to the variety of music styles and musical periods that we are recognizing. The thousand Saturday nights that these musicians spent on the road throughout their careers will be recognized this April as their colleagues throughout Rhode Island stand to applaud their successes.”

“Our Induction ceremony in April has become the place for a ‘who’s who’ in Rhode Island music. The Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony and Concert is the place to be and be seen at as we continue to showcase the history of Rhode Island’s musical heroes,” says Billington.

This year, Bellaire said, there will be two induction events, and 11 more displays will be unveiled to celebrate inductees. Eventually, the museum will have more than 100 displays as well as memorabilia and interactive components.

The 2015 induction ceremonies will take place on two days, April 20 and April 26, at two separate locations.

The jazz inductions will take place on Monday, April 20, 7:00 p.m. at Bovi’s Tavern, 287 Taunton Avenue, East Providence, before the weekly performance by the Bovi’s big band, the John Allmark Orchestra. Being honored on that day will be George Masso, Bob Petteruti and Duke Belaire, the founder of the Bovi’s band.

The Induction Ceremony and Concert is set for Sunday, April 26, 2:00 p.m. at The Met and Hall of Fame itself, both located within the Hope Artiste Village complex, 999 Main St., Pawtucket, RI. Sunday’s afternoon event will include the unveiling of nine new exhibits as well as performances by The Schemers and Raindogs, Brenda Bennett, The Ascots, The Others, and an all-star jam session led by two of this year’s MVP sideman award winners, Marty Ballou and Marty Richards. Sunday’s concert will be preceded by the unveiling of eleven new 2015 inductee exhibits.

Tickets for the April 26 event at The Met are $20.00 in advance and $25.00 at the door. The 2 p.m. unveiling of the inductee exhibits is free and open to the public; a ticket will be required for entrance to the 3 p.m. concert in The Met. Information regarding the April 20 event and tickets for April 26 can be found at www.rhodeislandmusichalloffame.com.

All proceeds from RIMHOF’s annual induction events go toward creating the museum displays, acquiring recordings and memorabilia, and digitizing that collection for permanent online access for future generations. All organizational work has been donated by members of the Board Of Directors and a staff of volunteers.

For general information regarding the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame, contact Dr. Robert Billington at 401-724-2200 or at bvri@aol.com.

Herb Weiss LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

Protecting Retirement Savings Should Be a Priority

Published on March 7, 2015 in the Pawtucket Times

Last month, President Obama used his presidential bully pulpit to publicly support a proposed U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) rule, endorsed by a coalition of aging, labor and consumer groups, that reportedly limits conflicts of interest, increases accountability, and strengthens protection for Americans receiving retirement investment advice.

At the February 23 press conference held at the Washington, D.C.-based AARP headquarters, attended by Obama, Save Our Retirement Coalition members and lawmakers, the President called for the issuing of the proposed rule, still awaiting Office of Management and Budget (OMB) review and final DOL action. The updating of DOL rules and requirements would require higher standards for financial advisors, requiring them to act solely in their client’s best interest when giving financial advice, said Obama.

The Save Our Retirement Coalition says that the final rule is “needed to help protect Americans’ hard earned retirement savings from advisers who recommend investments based on their own interest – such as those that pay generous commissions – not because they serve their clients’ best interest.”

Existing Rules Outdated

In his remarks at AARP, Obama called the rules governing retirement investments written over 40 years ago “outdated,” filled with “legal loopholes,” and just “fine print,” needing an overhaul.  The existing rules governing retirement investments were written “at a time when most workers with a retirement plan had traditional pensions, and IRAs were brand new, and 401ks didn’t even exist,” the President explained.

At the event, Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez., claimed that his agency has substantially reached out to “a wide range of stakeholders,” to craft the proposed rule that was sent to OMB.  “The input we have received to date has been invaluable, but we’re not even close to being done. We have a lot more listening to do, and once the Notice of Proposed Rule Making is published in the coming months, I look forward to hearing from as many stakeholders as I can. We’re going to get this right, because the strength of the middle class depends on a secure retirement,” he says.

“We know the people we represent have worked hard to save for retirement, and we believe that they deserve to have financial advisers who work just as hard to protect what they’ve earned,” said AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, in her remarks.  AARP is a member of the Save Our Retirement Coalition.

“AARP, a major consumer advocate, has been fought for this consumer regulation for over five years to ensure that Americans of all ages get the best financial advice when planning for their retirement,” says Jenkins. “Recently AARP also found that 9 out of 10 employers who sponsor retirement savings plans support holding advice to such a ‘best interest’ standard,” she adds. .

“In today’s world, it’s hard enough to save for retirement and achieve your financial goals” added Jenkins. “We don’t need to make it more difficult by allowing some on Wall Street to take advantage of hard-working Americans. Bad financial advice is just wrong,” she says.

According to Save Our Retirement Coalition, “the need for the proposed rule was made starkly apparent in a White House report released showing that conflicts of interest are costing middle class families and billions of dollars annually. The 30 page report, released last month, details the current regulatory environment for financial planners, providing evidence on the negative financial impact of conflicted professional investment advice draining older American’s retirement saving accounts.

The White House report, issued by Council of Economic Advisors, cited evidence pulled from the literature, showing that “conflicted advice reduces investment returns by roughly 1 percentage point for savers receiving that advice” The report also found that “a retiree who receives conflicted advice when rolling over a 401 (k) balance to an IRA at retirement will lose an estimated 12 percent of the value of his or her savings if drawn down over 30 years.  For those receiving conflicted advice “takes withdrawals at the rate possible absent conflicted advice, his or her savings would run out more than 5 years earlier.”

Holding Wall Street Accountable

“Many investment professionals do what’s right,” said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. ”But loopholes in the law are allowing some on Wall Street  to take advantage of hard-working Americans, recommending investments with higher fees, riskier investments, and lower returns to make even higher profits for themselves. Last year alone, hidden fees, unfair risk and bad investment advice robbed Americans of as much as $17 billion,” she states.

“AARP agrees that financial professionals of all types serve a valuable role in building the wealth and security of the investing public,” added Connell. “We simply want to achieve some consistency in the standards across the industry. Here is Rhode Island, many retirees are very concerned about their investment savings and they deserve protection. Our position is that retirement accounts managed by a broker should receive the same protections as regular investment accounts held with an advisor,” she says.

“Rhode Islanders have who have worked hard for their money and deserve a new standard that holds Wall Street genuinely accountable for helping them choose the best investments for themselves, their family and their future,” she adds.

Security Trade Group Concern

             The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), a trade group representing securities firms, banks and asset management companies, is waiting to see the details of the proposed rule.  SIFMA CEO Kenneth E. Bentsen, Jr., stated: “While we cannot comment on a proposal we have not yet seen, we have ongoing concerns that the DOL regulation could adversely affect retirement savers, particularly middle class workers.  The new regulation could limit investor choice, cause inconsistencies as different regulators would apply different standards to the same regulatory accounts, prohibit guidance, and raise the costs of savings for retirement.”

But, both Obama and the Save Our Retirement Coalition strongly disagree with SIFMA’s assessment of the potential impact of DOL’s proposed rule, which has not yet been issued and is ultimately subject to change after the public comment period.

A large majority of financial planners put their clients first when giving them investment advice. But, as you know a few bad apples can truly spoil the barrel.  If trade groups representing financial planners fail to act to rein in financial planners who give conflicted advice to pad their pockets, than federal regulations can quickly do that job by applying “simple, commonsense standards.”

It makes practical and political sense to me.

Here is a linked to President Obama’s comments at the AARP Press Conference: http://www.whitehouse.gov/photos-and-video/video/2015/02/23/president-obama-speaks-aarp.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket-based writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com . Or call 401/ 742-5372.

Leonard Hits High Notes

Published February 27, 2015 in Senior Digest

Before even cutting his first record, little did Pawtucket’s George Leonard realize that he would help set legal precedents for student dress codes as well as ultimately make it into the rock ‘n’ roll history books and now, in 2015, into the Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame (RIMHOF).

When Leonard’s family relocated to nearby Attleboro in 1964, the young high school student was tossed out on the first day of school for having a “Beatle-length” haircut. Already an established professional musician, Leonard filed a freedom of expression lawsuit against the School Department, which dragged on through several appeals and wound up in the Massachusetts Supreme Court. Although the court finally sided with the School Department, it was too late.

“This was a landmark case. Students all over the country, following George’s example, began demanding their right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. Long hair became the order of the day,” said Rick Bellaire, RIMHOF vice chair and archive director.

The teenager deftly capitalized on the intense interest generated by the internationally publicized lawsuit, which brought his band, Georgie Porgie & The Cry Babies, onto the thriving New York City discotheque scene of the mid-1960s.

The popularity of the band led to two national releases for Jubilee Records. After the Cry Babies ran its course, Leonard composed and produced the controversial rock opera, “Bozo.”   He later, under his alter-ego, “Commander Video,” became a cable TV pioneer on the blossoming performance art scene in New York City in the 1970s.

Although the 67-year-old musician resides in Bristol, he still strongly feels his connections to Pawtucket. “I only perform for my friends these days,” says Leonard, admitting that he enjoys playing jazz much more than rock ‘n’ roll and blues.

Looking back, Leonard says that passion never pushed him into the music business. Practically speaking, “It was always easy for me to play music and I enjoyed writing songs,” he said.

According to Bellaire, Leonard will be inducted into the RIMHOF with The Schemers/Raindogs, Brenda Bennett, Nelson Eddy, George Masso, George Wein, Duke Belaire, Paco Zimmer, The Others and The Ascots (recognizing the great Rhode Island garage bands of the ‘60s along with Leonard), Bob Petteruti, Marty Ballou and Marty Richards (in the new “MVP sideman award” category).

“The Music Hall of Fame initiative,” says Bellaire, “provides a great opportunity to not only acknowledge Rhode Island’s musical greats and celebrate their achievements, but to finally have an organization whose primary goal is to promote and preserve Rhode Island’s rich musical heritage in all its forms. With actual exhibit space, coupled with our online archive, we have in place the tools to curate and showcase the best of Rhode Island’s musical artistry.”

This year, Bellaire said, there will be two induction ceremonies, and 11 more displays will be unveiled to celebrate inductees. Eventually, the museum will have more than 100 displays as well as memorabilia and interactive components.

The induction of jazz musicians will take place on April 20 at 7 p.m. at Bovi’s Tavern, 287 Taunton Ave., East Providence, before the weekly performance by the John Allmark Jazz Orchestra. George Masso, Bob Petteruti and Duke Belaire, the founder of the Bovi’s big band, will be honored.

On April 26, there will be an induction ceremony and concert at The MET and Hall of Fame within Hope Artiste Village, 999 Main St., Pawtucket. An afternoon event will include the unveiling of the inductee exhibits as well as performances by The Schemers, Raindogs, Brenda Bennett, The Ascots, TheOthers and an all-star jam session led by two of this year’s MVP sideman award winners — Ballou and Richards.

The 2 p.m. unveiling is free, but a ticket will be required for entrance to the 3 p.m. concert in the MET. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door and can be purchased atwww.RhodeIslandMusicHallofFame.com

Robert Billington, chair of the RIMHOF, said, “This year’s class of inductees is especially amazing due to the variety of music styles and musical periods that we are recognizing. The thousand Saturday nights that these musicians spent on the road throughout their careers will be recognized this April as their colleagues throughout Rhode Island stand to applaud their successes.

“Our induction ceremony … has become the place for a ‘who’s who in Rhode Island music,” he said. “The Rhode Island Music Hall of Fame Induction ceremony and concert is the place to be and be seen at as we continue to showcase the history of Rhode Island’s musical heroes.”

Bellaire noted, “In past years, we’ve been delighted to induct many senior members of Rhode Island’s music community. For instance, last year The Mark II – Wayne Cogswell and Ray Peterson who are both in their 80s — were on hand to accept their awards and perform, and Rhode Island Philharmonic founder Francis Madeira at 97 came all the way down from Maine to accept his award during a philharmonic performance at The Vets.

“This year, we will be honored to have some of the most senior inductees with us,” he continued, “… all of whom are still active participants on the music scene, including drummer/band leader Duke Belaire (83), bassist/educator Bob Petteruti (85), trombonist/educator George Masso (88), and Newport Jazz and Folk festival founder George Wein (89).”

Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based writer. Contact him at hweissri@aol.com.

 

President’s Budget Addresses Issues of Interest to Seniors

Published in Pawtucket Times on February 27, 2015
President Obama released his 141 page ‘policy and wish list” when he unveiled his politically ambitious FY 2016 budget on Feb 2, not having to worry about running for president in the upcoming 2016 presidential election cycle.

Yes, even inside the Washington Beltway a picture is truly worth a thousand words. Gone is the budget’s plain blue cover replaced by a black and white photo of the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York, an image that projects one of the President’s spending priorities of rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure to create jobs and improve the transportation system.

The $4 trillion presidential budget, a political campaign document outlaying his policies and priorities, would cancel automatic sequestration cuts to domestic and military programs over a 10 year period. According to the New York Times, Obama’s budget proposal would add $6 trillion to the national debt, and the single-year deficit would rise to $687 billion by 2025.

Obama’s FY 2016 budget puts more funding into education, rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure, increased defense spending, along with providing tax relief for America’s middle class while increasing the taxes for corporate America and the wealthy. Political insiders say that Obama’s budget, one that gives to the middle class and assesses higher taxes from corporate America and the wealthy, sets the issues to be surely debated in the upcoming presidential election. .

A Look at Aging Priorities

On her Feb. 3 blog post, Nora Super, executive director of the upcoming White House Conference on Aging, details how the recently released budget proposal will “ensure that older Americans enjoy not only longer but healthier lives.”

As to retirement security, Super notes that the Obama Administration strongly opposes any legislative measures that would privatize the nation’s Social Security program, or slash benefits for future generations or reduce basic benefits to current beneficiaries. Super says that half the nation’s workforce, that’s about 78 million, does not have a retirement savings plan at work. “Fewer than 10 percent of those without plans at work contribute to a plan of their own. The President’s FY 2016 Budget expands retirement opportunities for all Americans to help families save and give them better choices to reach a secure retirement,” she says.

According to Super, Obama’s Budget proposal supports healthy aging by strengthening the Medicare program by “aligning payments with the costs of providing care, along with encouraging health care providers to deliver better care and better outcomes for their patients, and improving access to care for beneficiaries.”

To put the brakes to rising prescription drug costs, Super notes that the President’s Budget proposes to close the Medicare Part D donut hole for brand drugs by 2017, rather than 2020, by increasing discounts from the pharmaceutical industry. The Budget proposal also gives the Secretary of Health and Human Services new authority to negotiate with drug manufacturers on prices for high cost drugs and biologics covered under the Part D program.

Linking nutrition to healthy aging, Super says that Obama’s Budget provides “over $874 million for Nutrition Services programs, a $60 million increase over the 2015 enacted level, allowing States to provide 208 million meals to over 2 million older Americans nation-wide, helping to halt the decline in service levels for the first time since 2010.” Also, Obama’s budget ratchets up funding for supportive housing for very low-income elderly households, including frail elderly, to give these individuals access to human services, she adds. .

Protecting older persons from elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, Super blogs that the President’s budget proposal includes $25 million in discretionary resources for Elder Justice Act programs authorized under the Affordable Care Act. “Funding will “improve detection and reporting of elder abuse; grants to States to pilot a new reporting system; and funding to support a coordinated Federal research portfolio to better understand and prevent the abuse and exploitation of vulnerable adults,” she says.

Here’s Super’s take on the Obama budgetary blueprint: “Taken together, these and other initiatives in the Budget will help to change the aging landscape in America to reflect new realities and new opportunities for older Americans, and they will support the dignity, independence, and quality of life of older Americans at a time when we’re seeing a huge surge in the number of older adults.”

In a released statement, AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond gives thumbs to the president’s efforts to “lower the cost of prescription drugs, promote better care, reward improved outcomes and make health care programs more efficient and less wasteful.” She also expresses her nonprofit group’s support for the President’s budgetary priorities to “create opportunities for the middle class” and his goal “to make saving for retirement easier.”

But, LeaMond expresses concerns that higher premiums, deductibles and copays might shift costs to older Americans. “As the federal deficit continues shrinking, we must find responsible solutions for strengthening critical programs and improving the retirement and overall economic security of current and future generations. We must also look for savings throughout the entire health care system, as the rising cost of health care threatens people of all ages,” she says.

In his statement, President/CEO Max Richtman, of the Washington, DC-based National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, agrees with LeaMond’s concerns of higher premiums, deductible’s and co pays, too. “While some tout increasing means testing in Medicare as a way to insure ‘rich’ seniors pay their share, the truth is, the middle-class will take this hit as well,” he predicts.

Political pundits say that Obama’s 2016 budget was dead-on arrival at Capitol Hill the day it was released at the beginning of February. In the shadow of the upcoming 50th Anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th Anniversary of Social Security, GOP leadership in both chambers of Congress must work with the Democratic President to hammer out a bipartisan compromise. Putting budgetary proposals that strengthens the nation’s programs and services for older Americans on the chopping block for purely political reasons is not acceptable, especially to a nation that opposes political gridlock.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.

You Are Never Too Old for Romance

Published in Pawtucket Times, February 13, 2015

             Packing your bags can simply become the first step you take toward rekindling your relationship. Last week, with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, Love and Relationships Ambassador Dr. Pepper Schwartz weighed in on a recently released AARP Travel study that reveals that 85 percent of Americans 45-plus have not taken a romantic vacation in the past two years.

For Dr. Schwartz, Ph.D., a sociologist and sexologist teaching at the University of Washington Seattle Washington, an author or co-author of 19 books, magazines, website columns and a television personality on the subject of sexuality, the findings reveal a need for couples to plan romantic getaways as a way to spend quality time with their partner and bolster their relationship.

Make Time for Love

In a release, Dr. Schwartz, co-author of the newly released book Places for Passion, says “There is every indication that romantic travel really does refresh a couple’s relationship, makes them feel more in love, and makes them crave each other’s company,” “And there is also research, which indicates that trying something new is the best bonding mechanism of all.”

“I wish we could be as romantic at home as we can on a trip- but there is something about getting away that lets us forget about our daily stuff and instead, fully concentrate on each other,” says Dr. Schwartz. “When we stay at home, it’s hard not to answer the phone or try and answer one more email- but in fact, we seem to need to get away- to have a new stage setting’ for romance  to bring out the best in us,” she adds.

“That of course goes double if you have children at home; even a short getaway without them is a great romantic boost,” notes Schwartz. .

But, if a vacation can be healthy for your relationship, why are the numbers of those who have taken romantic vacations so low? According to AARP Travel research, people most often cite busy schedules and tight budgets as the primary reasons to not pack their bags, forgoing a needed vacation. However, Dr. Schwartz says that with smart and easy-to-use tools and resources, the perfect romantic vacation can be just as relaxing to plan as it is to enjoy and affordable.

Creating New Memories, Igniting Passions

Dr. Schwartz’s book, Places for Passion, co-written with Dr. Janet Lever, Ph.D., a sociology professor  at California State University in Lost Angeles, who lead teams of researchers who designed three of the largest sex surveys ever tabulated (also coauthoring  Glamour’s Sex and Health column), outlines 75 destinations across the world for couples to explore and create new memories.  Because people have such different preferences Dr. Schwartz and Lever’s 416 page book, published in December 2014, identifies romantic destinations in urban areas, around beaches, in places that offer national wonders, or those places for the adventurous.

“However, whether we are recommending, Santa Fe, Bali, Zion or Capetown, there are certain romantic ‘must haves’ that are specified in the book, says Dr. Schwartz. She also urges aging travelers to avoid “convention hotels” which can ruin a romantic mood. “We don’t like Bed and Breakfast Inns unless they are built for privacy and still provide private, luxurious bathrooms,” adds Dr. Schwartz, noting she and Lever provide the reader with a full listing of hotels, restaurants and attractions– all geared for romance.

Creating the Mood

Get expert advice to create the romantic mood, says Lever, suggesting that the hotel concierge or manager be approached for interesting ideas or help in creating dinners in unexpected places.  “We’ve heard of people placed at the side of waterfalls, alone in front of the fireplace, or even loaned the balcony in an unused suite,” she says, stressing, “You won’t know what your options might be if you don’t ask.”

Lever says, “If you are already on vacation, splurge on a room service dinner.  If you’re not, look to the future and create an ‘I Owe You’ for a future travel getaway.  Set your date, so it really happens, then enjoy a nice dinner and ponder the choices for your promised vacation.”

Book reviewers are raving about Places for Passion, too.  Dr. Helen Fisher, Ph.D., Anthropologist at Rutgers University, says, “Travel is the liquor of romance. Novelty triggers the brain’s dopamine system to sustain romantic passion. This surge soon fires up testosterone to tickle your sex drive.  And as you hug and kiss, you feel the oxytocia system – ushering in feelings of deep attachment.  So Peper Schwartz and Janet Lever have it right with t his charming book.  It’s full of great ideas on how to keep love alive.

“As for spice, we are the same authors who wrote The Getaway Guide for a Great Sex Weekend! It’s a much different type of book with a lot of tips for providing more eroticism and sexual playfulness, adds Dr. Schwartz. “But for starters people who could make sure they brought sexier clothes to sleep in (or even take off), and maybe rent an erotic movie or read a sexy book. Giving each other a shampoo and head rub in the shower a foot or hand massage afterwards also helps heat up the evening, “she says.

AARP Travel (www.aarp.org/romantictravel) includes information about most of those destinations on the website alongside other planning guides, which can be valuable tools for couples looking to enhance their relationship this Valentine’s Day weekend.

To watch Dr. Pepper Schwartz talk about AARP Travel’s research on the importance of Romantic Travel, please visit: origin-qps.onstreammedia.com/origin/multivu_archive/MNR/66070_Pepper_Schwartz_Valentines_Day_0202.mp4.

(Note: This is the unedited version submitted to the newspapers.

Financial Exploitation of Elderly Must Be Addressed

Published in Pawtucket Times, February 7, 2015

 Professor Philip Marshall, Coordinator of the Historic Preservation Program at Roger Williams University in Bristol, entered Room 562 in the Dirkson Senate Building not to testify on historic preservation policy, as he often did, but to share a family tragedy.  Marshall’s testimony detailed how his grandmother, New York philanthropist Brooke Astor, was financially exploited in her later years by his father.

Brooke Astor, a philanthropist, socialite and writer, was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Bill Clinton in 1998, for her generous giving of millions of dollars to social and cultural cause.  Marshall, one of four witnesses who came before the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging this past Wednesday, would say, that his 105 year old grandmother, who died on August 13, 2007, was considered to be “New York’s First Lady,” and a “humanist aristocrat with a generous heart.”

Marshall, a resident of South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, told the panel his mother would never have wanted to be known as “one of America’s most famous cases of elder abuse.”

“Nor did she, while in the throes of dementia, choose to be victimized to be deprived, manipulated and robbed – all as a calculated ‘scheme to defraud,’ as later characterized by the Manhattan District Attorney,” said Dr. Marshall.

Astor’s financial exploitation “may be her greatest, most lasting legacy,” says  Marshall.

In his testimony, Marshall told the attending Senators that after a three-month battle for guardianship to protect his grandmother’s assets, a settlement was reached five days before the court date.  A criminal investigation launched by the Manhattan District Attorney after a potential forgery was referred to his Elder Abuse Unit, would later lead to the indictment in 2007 of his father and a lawyer, says Marshall.

Two years later, after a six-month criminal trial the jury would find Marshall’s father guilty on 13 of 14 counts against him.  All, but one, were held up on appeal.

“While my grandmother’s stolen assets were reclaimed, many elders never reclaim their money – or their lives,” observes Marshall.  “Here, for financial transactions, enhanced detection, mandatory reporting, and greater reporting of suspicious activity will help,” he says.

A Growing Epidemic

 In her opening statement, Senator Susan M. Collins, (R-Maine) who chaired, the Senate Aging Panel’s hearing, “Broken Trust: Combating Financial Exploitation Targeting Vulnerable Seniors,” warns that a growing epidemic of financial exploitation is happening – one that she estimates to cost seniors an estimated $2.9 billion in 2010, according to the Government Accounting Office.

Financial exploitation is a growing problem in Rhode Island, too, notes Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), a member of the Senate Aging Panel. “Sadly, this number likely underestimates the cost to victims because older adults often do not report abuse, particularly when it involves a family member.”

Senator Whitehouse noted that this week’s Special Committee on Aging hearing examined the challenges to identifying and prosecuting fraud schemes and highlighted strategies to prevent the financial exploitation of seniors. “There are steps we can take to address this problem, and I strongly support the Older Americans Act, which recently advanced out of the HELP Committee and addresses financial exploitation and other forms of elder abuse,” he added.

“Over the past several years the Rhode Island State Police has experienced a steady increase in the number of complaints of elderly exploitation and larceny from individuals over sixty-five-years, says Colonel Steven O’Donnell, who oversees the Rhode Island State Police.  During the past six years his Agency has investigated 40 complaints amounting to a total loss to victims of over $1,000,000.00.

According to O’Donnell, in 2010, State Police investigated four complaints related to elderly exploitation and/or larceny.  Four years later, 14 complaints were investigated. “These increases may be attributed to the increased computer literacy of willing perpetrators and the increased accessibility to bank accounts online, which provides perpetrators the opportunity to conduct their criminal activity behind closed doors,” he says.

Combating Financial Exploitation

To ratchet up the protection of older Rhode Islanders against financial exploitation, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin and the Rhode Island General Assembly passed a bill last year that extends the statute of limitations for elder exploitation from three years to ten years. Kilmartin says the new law, sponsored by retired Representative Elaine A. Coderre (D-District 60, Pawtucket) and Senator Paul V. Jabour (D- District 5, Providence), gives law enforcement officials the necessary time to build a proper case for charging and subsequent prosecution, bringing it in line with other financial crimes.

“The law about financial exploitation is on the books—let’s enforce it,” says, Kathleen Heren, State Long Term Care Ombudsman, at the Warwick-based Alliance for Better Long Term Care. “What a sad world we are in where a senior or a disabled person loses everything they have scrimped and saved for to a greedy individual who, in the majority of cases, is a family member,” she adds.  Over the years she has also seen financial exploitation involving clergy, lawyers, bank tellers, brokers, and “people who you would never suspect would steal from a frail elder.”

“Many people who hear “elder abuse and neglect” [or financial exploitation] think about older people living in nursing homes or about elderly relatives who live all alone and never have visitors. But elder abuse and financial exploitation are not just problems of older people we never see. It is right in our midst, and as Attorney General, I am committed to doing all I can to protect all of the citizens of our state,” says Kilmartin.

“Many elders rely on others for assistance, but oftentimes think they can easily trust these helpers to handle their financial affairs, only to be robbed of their hard earned money,” says Kilmartin, noting that in some cases the perpetrator leaves the victim penniless.

Kilmartin notes that financial exploitation of elders is one of the most challenging crimes to investigate, charge and prosecute.  By the time law enforcement becomes aware of the abuse and investigates the matter, the statute of limitations has often expired.  “The statute of limitations needs to be more reasonable so these complicated cases can be prosecuted appropriately,” states Rhode Island’s Attorney General. “Seniors, especially those who must rely on others for care, were unnecessarily made more vulnerable by the previous short statute of limitations,” he says.

According to Kilmartin, The Office of Attorney General has a specialized unit of prosecutors and investigators that handle elder abuse cases.  Several years ago, the Elder Abuse Unit was created because of the large percentage of Rhode Islanders who were age 60 and over. The special needs of the older victims and the fact that elder abuse, neglect and exploitation crosses all racial, socio-economic, gender and geographic lines made the need for a special unit apparent.  Coupled with this fact that this age group is the State’s fastest growing demographic, crimes against older persons often times go unreported, presenting high temptation and low risk for prosecution.

In Rhode Island, there is a mandatory duty of all citizens to report a suspicion of elder abuse and/or elder financial exploitation. To report elder physical abuse and/or elder financial abuse, contact your local police, Rhode Island State Police or the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs at (401) 462-3000 or dea.ri.gov.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com or at 401 742-4372.