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.

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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.

 

It Takes a Village to Age in Place

Published in Senior Digest, February 2015

The simple act of joining his good friend, Reverend James Ishmael Ford, of the First Unitarian Church of Providence, for a quick cup of coffees piqued Cy O’Neil’s curiosity and led him on a journey to learn more about a new care option popping up around the nation, one that allows aging baby boomers to age in place right in the comfort of their home.

During their coffee chats, Ford, a native of California, began talking about his upcoming retirement, planning to return to his home state to be near his children.  But, he stressed the importance that his new California community must be located near a village.

O’Neil was intrigued and began Googling for information on specific villages, one was the The Beacon Hill Village.  He quickly got the concept.  Villages are created by membership-driven grass-roots organizations, with volunteers and paid staff, who coordinate access to affordable services, transportation, health and wellness programs, home repairs, social and educational activities, and other day-to-day needs enabling older persons to remain connected to their neighborhood community throughout the aging process.

According to Village to Village Network, there are now over 120 villages operating across the nation, in Canada, Australia and the Netherlands, with over a 100 additional Villages being developed.

Like many aging baby boomers, sixty-five-year old O’Neill did not want to leave his comfortable home in his later years, but stay put in his long-time Oakhill neighborhood.  The Village on Providence’s Eastside might just be the way to assist neighbors working together to successfully keep each other right in their homes, far away from assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

Creating Providence Village

Last February, O’Neill and several friends, over pot luck dinners, began  brainstorming how the Village concept could be brought to the Ocean State. One of the oldest Village organizations, The Beacon Hill Village, was established in Boston in 2001.  Why couldn’t the successfully run, The Beacon Hill Village, be replicated right here in Rhode Island, they asked.

Three pot luck dinners along with a larger event that drew over 30 attendees, resulted in a group of nine people who decided to launch an effort to create what they call the Providence Village.  This group consisted of a writer, editor, a geriatrician, college educators and administrators, people with business backgrounds, and artists.

“Rhode Island is the only state that does not have a village yet,” quips O’Neil.  There have been other attempts to bring The Village concept to Rhode Island but the failed,” he believes.

O’Neil, Boston College’s associate director for long-range planning and capital, notes that the Providence Village is still in the exploratory phase, gathering information.  The Steering Group is reaching out to Eastside Community in Providence through a survey on its website (http://providencevillageri.org/take-our-survey/) to identify the types of programs and services needed and identifying potential partners.  When completed, the Steering Group will move the organization into development phase where “serious planning begins to take place,” adds O’Neil.  At this phase, member benefits will be determined, organizational partners identified, and an operational, business and marketing plan developed.  .

“So far our responses have been very positive,” observes O’Neil.  “We’re energized by these responses and are very committed to rolling up our sleeves to make Village Providence work,” he says, noting that the Steering Group wants to create more opportunities to get more people involved to make Providence Village a reality.

Thoughts From Steering Group Members

Pat Gifford, MD, a retired geriatrician who is certified in hospice and palliative care who has practiced for over 30 years, brings her medical expertise and understanding of aging issues to the Steering Group.  The sixty-six year old Laurel Mead resident sees the village movement targeted to aging baby boomers.  “The Village is not a social service agency to take care of frail people,” she notes, but a “way of organizing people to take care of each other, often involving volunteering and a measure of paying-it-forward.”

Gifford, who brings extensive experience about the Village movement to the Steering Group, would like to write and teach on health and wellness issues for the members of the Providence Village, especially providing support to self-supportive groups for those with chronic diseases.  “It’s up to the Board of Village members if they are interested in these efforts,” she says.

According to Gifford, the key to Providence Village being a success is garnering strong grass roots support.  “It is important for people to go to visit our web site and complete our survey, so that we can understand the needs and desires of our unique community,” she adds.

A Final Note…

“The village movement is one of many approaches to senior living that AARP encourages,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell. “It’s impractical for many people to simply remain in the family homestead forever. It’s not ‘Aging in Place’ if the place isn’t right for you. Most people talk about downsizing as if it is all there is to be said about housing options. It’s not true, and we’re happy to see growing awareness that less house to maintain is really only part of the solution.

“One’s house and one’s home are two different things. You can choose another house, but people are most comfortable when they make a new home in an environment where they feel comfortable and live in proximity to the services and support they require as they age. AARP calls these livable communities and they are aligned with the thinking behind the village movement.

“Rhode Island does not have unlimited space to build new retirement communities. We need a balance of traditional senior housing development and the creative thinking and the adaptive use of existing housing.“

For more details about Providence Village go to http://providencevillageri.org/.

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