Covering All the Aging Bases in 2017

Published in Pawtucket times on January 1, 2017

As an age beat columnist, it has been a very eventful year in covering aging, health care and medical issues that impact older Rhode Islanders. During 2017, over 42 “fresh” commentaries along with previous printed ones appeared in the Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call. Readers were kept abreast on a dazzling array of political issues, including a GOP President and Republican-controlled Congress attempting to whittle popular domestic entitlement programs like Social and Medicare programs, attempts to derail Obamacare, and the passage of the largest tax code changes in the past 30 years.

Throughout 2017, a few of my weekly commentaries drew attention to individuals who worked tirelessly on behalf of older Rhode Islanders. It is important to recognize volunteers who assist Rhode Island’s aging network provide programs and services to the state’s growing older population. One commentary noted Phil Zarlengo tireless efforts, and his receiving AARP’s most distinguished volunteer award. Another commentary gave kudos to the Rhode Island Minority Task Force’s 10 “Everyday Heroes.”

Meanwhile, other commentaries penned that year touched on a wide range of aging issues, from a Senate calling to better protect seniors during disasters, improving your cognitive health, enhancing communication at home, taking a look at how innovative companies help caregiver employees, to taking a look how a person made “lemonade out of life’s lemons” who shared her insight others.

Below are five article, providing you with the breadth and depth of this year’s commentaries. Over 300 commentaries including the below ones can be viewed on my blog, herbweiss.wordpress.com.

1. “Spumoni’s: “Where Everybody Knows Your Name”: Study Says Being Socially Active May Improve Cognitive Functioning,” published I the Feb. 26, 2017 issue of the Woonsocket Call, and one day later in the Pawtucket Times.

Mark and Nancy Shorrock, of Attleboro, Massachusetts, now in their seventies and married for 52 years, began dining at Spumonis twice a week with their children in the 1980s, and remember being drawn to the Italian-style restaurant because of its reputation of serving “good food.” Over the years, as the Shorrock’s three children became more independent and “doing things on their own,” the couple began increasing their trips daily to the Pawtucket resident for dinner since it was so close by. Of course, their network of friends increased, too.

What the Shorrocks know innately, a 24-page report, “The Brain and Social Connectedness: GCBH Recommendations on Social Engagement and Brain Health, “released by the Global Council on Brain Health in February 14, 2017, tells us that larger social networks may positively impact your health, wellbeing, even your cognitive functioning. This report is available at http://www.GlobalCouncilOnBrainHealth.org.

“It’s not uncommon for our social networks to shrink in size as we get older,” said Marilyn Albert, Ph.D., GCBH Chair, Professor of Neurology and Director of the Division of Cognitive Neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. “This report provides many helpful suggestions about the things we can do to improve the quality of our relationships with family and friends, which may be beneficial in maintaining our mental abilities.”

The Brain and Social Connectedness report addresses the social benefits of having pets, the role that age-friendly communities play in fostering social ties, and how close relationships promote both physical health and psychological well-being. The report also covers how social media like Facebook and Skype helps older adults maintain their social connections.

2. “Carvelli: Making Lemonade Out of Life’s Lemons,” published in the April 9, 2017 issue of the Woonsocket Call, and one day later in the Pawtucket Times.
Author and life coach Linda Carvelli believes that everything in life has a purpose and that resilience will get you through any obstacle in your path. She succinctly illustrates this philosophy in her 340 page memoir, “Perfectly Negative: How I Learned to Embrace Life’s Lemons Lessons.” The self-published book details how she faced personal and family tragedy (divorce, becoming unemployed, and caring for her mother and sister with breast cancer who ultimately died, and herself being diagnosed with breast cancer.)

Carvelli a Warren resident, dedicated over twenty years of her professional career to computer technology and project management before writing her first full-length memoir, published in 2016, that reveals how she ultimately came to terms with her life’s mission. That is helping people overcome and learn from the challenges in their daily lives. As a board certified life coach, she brings lessons from her book to people to help them regain control of their lives, discover new perspectives, create more options, and move forward with confidence and courage.

3. “Assistance to Employee Caregivers Good for Everyone’s Bottom Line,” published on June 11 issue of the Woonsocket Call, and one day later in the Pawtucket Times.

In 2017, AARP and the Respect a Caregiver’s Time Coalition (ReACT) released a report detailing innovative practices and policies of 14 organizations (including Fannie Mae, CBS Corporation, Allianz Life, and Emory University) to support their employees with caregiver responsibilities. With the graying of America, supporting caregiver employees should be considered “a potentially new weapon” to attract or retain talented employees, say the researchers, by flexible work arrangements and paid leave policies. And there will be a need for this support.

“Family caregivers juggle their loved one’s needs with their own personal and professional goals every day. AARP hopes this report will encourage more employers understand caregiving and support their employees’ success,” said Nancy LeaMond, executive vice president and chief advocacy and engagement officer in a statement. AARP sponsored the 49-page report.

`According to researchers, interviews with business and human resources executives from the profiled organizations in the report indicated that time and flexibility are what matter most to employees when it comes to balancing work and caregiving. Close to half of the employers interviewed provide paid time off for caregiving as well as emergency backup care and flexible work arrangements.

All offer employee caregivers a combination of information resources, referral services and advice by phone. Most provide resources online, typically through an employee assistance (EAP) or an intranet portal. More than half offer phone consultations or 24/7 expert hotlines. Several interviewees stressed the value of providing on-site, independent eldercare consultants, noting that employees appreciate both the convenience and the respect for their privacy.

4. “Save the Roses and Try These Tips: Six Ways to Improving Communication at Home,” published in the February 5, 2017 issue of the Woonsocket Call, and one day later in the Pawtucket Times

Effective Communication at home with your husband, wife, or partner is key to maintaining a meaningful, healthy, environment and thriving family. Author Donna Mac, a well-known corporate trainer, based in South Eastern, Massachusetts, with 25 years of experience in the broadcasting industry, translates effective corporate communication details tips in her book, “Six Pillars of Effective Communication” which can bring healthy energy into an ailing relationship and bring you closer together with your loved one.

According to Author Donna Mac, president of Rehoboth, MA-based DMacVoice Communications, sexual infidelity, commonly linked to divorce, is not the leading cause for couples separating. The corporate communications expert notes that a recent article in Psychology Today says that whether a partner’s communication “lifts you up or brings you down” is the single largest predictor of divorce.

Mac’s six pillars call for a person to: know and own who they are; understand the audience you are speaking to; master the topic of your conversation; anticipate the questions and reactions to your conversation; “speak to serve” by making sure the conversation is not about you; and be detach from the outcome of your discussion.

5. “Senate Aging Panel Calls for Improved Emergency Preparation and Response,” published in the October 8, 2017 of the Woonsocket Call, and one day later in the Pawtucket Times

In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Harvey, after the death of at least nine nursing facility residents due to heat-related illness due to sweltering heat at a Hollywood, Florida-based facility that had lost power to run its air conditioner, the Senate Special Committee on Aging put the spotlight on the challenges facing seniors during natural disasters at a hearing on Sept. 20, 2017.

The expert panel detailed a variety of recommendations at this Senate panel hearing. One suggestion included creating registries to quickly locate were residents who are electricity-dependent live, for swift evacuations. Another called for fully funding the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and investing in weather surveillance tools for better decision making.

Other recommendations included: requiring nursing and assisted living facilities have emergency evacuation plans; having support generators in the event of a power failure; gathering more research on what types of patients will benefit from evacuation or sheltering in; only allowing construction of facilities in places that minimize flooding risk; and litigation protection for facilities that abide by regulations and provide care during disaster scenarios.

If you like my weekly coverage of issues of interest to the aging network and older Rhode Islanders, a book compiling 79 of these commentaries is now available for purchase. To order “Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly,” go to http://www.herbweiss.com.

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Zarlengo Earns AARP Rhode Island’s Most Prestigious Volunteer Award

Published in Pawtucket Times on December 18, 2017

“To Serve and Not be Served” – Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus

AARP Rhode Island recognizes its own, Phil Zarlengo, for his decades of serving the state’s and the nation’s seniors. Over 130 family and fellow AARP Rhode Island members gathered at the Warwick Country Club at a luncheon ceremony to recognize his remarkable service to America’s largest aging advocacy group.

AARP top national officials (Joan R. Ruff, Chair of the AARP National Board of Directors, Kelly Clark, AARP Eastern Region Vice-president and Megan Hookley, AARP Vice President, Volunteerism & Services), came bringing their greetings.

Last week, Zarlengo, 71, a resident of Jamestown for over 30 years, became the 16th recipient AARP Rhode Island Ethel Percy Andrus Award for Community Service — the nonprofit group’s most prestigious and visible state volunteer award for community service.

Every year, Andrus Award recipients across the nation are chosen for their ability to enhance the lives of AARP members and prospective members, improve the community in or for which the work was performed, and inspire others to volunteer.

An Easy Pick

Zarlengo, a native of Chicopee, Massachusetts, was nominated for the Rhode Island Chapter’s prestigious award by Alan Neville, a retired executive in the financial services sector who now serves as AARP Rhode Island state president. “It was a very easy to pick Zarlengo,,” says Neville, acknowledging that “working with him has been a great privilege for me.”

“He is dedicated to public service and I consider him to be an authentic leader,” says Neville.

“As I have gotten to know him, I have come to appreciate the depth and breadth of Phil’s knowledge and experience,” says Neville, echoing many at the December 10 award ceremony who observed that the former teacher and school administrator’s volunteer efforts extend far beyond AARP to countless other regional and national groups and span decades of giving back to his community.

Zarlengo’s professional and educational credentials are impressive. He has a bachelor’s degree in Social Science from UMASS Amherst, an MA in History from Brown University, a doctorate in Management & Evaluation from the University of Connecticut and a Public Affairs Certificate from Tufts University.

Zarlengo Brings a lot to the Plate

A quick glance at his bio reveals his love for education. Zarlengo was Executive Director of Brown University’s National Education Research Lab, where he developed new models for teacher and school program evaluations disseminated across the nation. As an administrator in the Rhode Island Department of Education and the Providence School Department he monitored state and local programs for special population children. Currently, he is CEO of his own management consulting firm that evaluates and helps improve innovative school programs for low achieving students in urban schools, and is a member of the ACE Charter School Board of Directors.

Zarlengo’s award “acts as a symbol to the public that we can all work together for positive social change,” AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell told the attending. “AARP has long valued the spirit of volunteerism and the important contributions volunteers make to their communities, neighbors, and the programs they serve,” she said.

Connell considered Zarlengo a guiding light to AARP Rhode Island when he was asked to assist in organizing the first AARP Rhode Island state office in Providence. She had reached out to her former boss after working with him at Brown to serve as the aging advocacy group’s first volunteer state president.

“His advice on elderly and elderly issues was invaluable and his commitment extraordinary,” Connell says, stressing that Zarlengo “helped to put our office on the map early on, and in recognition of his work he moved swiftly on to his position on the National Board.”

Zarlengo eventually put his energies at the national level by serving on AARP National Board and Board Chair before stepping down in 2012. During his 14 years of volunteer service, he has been an energetic defender of Social Security and Medicare and a strong voice in improving healthcare quality and access for all. Since he left his national position three years ago, he still remains active in AARP in many roles, including AARP’s designee on the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, with a focus on helping older Americans prepare for natural disasters. He works closely with AARP Rhode Island’s legislative committee, bringing his understanding of complex national aging policy issues to the General Assembly when they are considering legislation impacting older Rhode Islanders.

“Nonetheless, he never left our fold, offering counsel and assistance whenever asked – and often when we didn’t ask. That’s Phil’s style and everyone who has ever worked with him here has benefited from his vision, wisdom and his warm enthusiasm,” says Connell.

Top AARP Volunteer Comes to Rhode Island

The award was presented by Joan Ruff, current AARP National Board Chair, who has worked as a executive, human resources consultant and attorney. “You have left more than a legacy of service for those of us who have followed in your footsteps,” she said, before presenting the award.

“Your instinct to emphasize the value of state offices and engines for positive social change and to focus on what we now call engaging locally was spot on. You made the case that the more engaged our membership is with AARP the more likely they are to get involved, to renew their commitment and to tell friends and family members about the value of the work we do,” noted Ruff.

“To Zarlengo’s surprise, Huff also conveyed a letter from AARP CEO Jo Ann Jenkins, which read in part, “Having previously served as AARP Rhode Island’s State President, as a national board member for six years and as AARP Board Chair for two years, you know as well as anyone the high level of commitment and dedication this honor represents.

“As a former state president, you were always thinking about how to make the states and national office work more closely together and how to make AARP a stronger presence in local communities across the country.

“You were instrumental in pushing for the integration of the states into AARP’s strategy development and in making AARP more of a local presence across the country. As president of AARP Foundation at the time, I was energized by your support for The Drive to End Hunger and our efforts in financial services,” Jenkins wrote.

“When AARP decided to bring Experience Corps into the AARP family of programs, you saw the benefit of serving all generations to help strengthen our communities. And, as AARP’s representative to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), you spearheaded AARP’s relief efforts in communities hit by natural disasters, leaving a legacy we continue to build on today.

Accolades, Accolades, Accolades

Dr. Reid Appleby, 38, ophthalmologist in East Greenwich who has known Zarlengo for over 48 years, calls him “a wonderful man who is dedicated to society and a friend to everyone he ever met.” It is very appropriate that he receive this prestigious award at this point in his life, says Appleby.

“It’s incredibly important to recognize his work,” says Senator Dawn Euer, representing Newport and Jamestown, noting that she had heard stories about his impact on the state’s aging policy. “It’s valuable for organizations like AARP to recognize their volunteers working to address aging issues that have an impact on the state and nation,” she said, noting that her legislative district has the highest concentration of AARP members in the Ocean State.

Senator Louis P. Dipalma, representing Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton, was not surprised that Zarlengo was receiving AARP’s most prestigious award because “his record is impressive.”

According to Dipalma, you need more people like Zarlengo with their extensive knowledge of Social Security and Medicare with such trying times at the federal level with a GOP Congress looking to cut these programs.

When accepting his recognition, an overwhelmed Zarlengo stated that he was not ready to hang up his spurs and there was still much work to do with Congress targeting Social Security and Medicare for cuts. “ AARP has given me the opportunity to grow, to contribute, to learn and to enjoy – at a very exciting time – when the older population is rapidly increasing – you know today nationally we have surpassed the 50 million mark of seniors age 65 and over and we’re well on our way to reaching 83 million by 2080.”

AARP’ Zarlengo and tens of thousands of committed AARP volunteers throughout the nation will be there “to serve and not be served.”

Zarlengo resides in Jamestown with his wife Charlotte. They are parents of, Nancy Gilbert (who resides in Wellesley, Mass., with her husband Michael) and are grandparents of Jeffrey, Elizabeth and Abigail.

Medicare Takes a Blow Under GOP’s Major Tax Plan Fix

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 10, 2017

In early December, the GOP-controlled Senate passed by a partisan vote of 51 to 49 its sweeping tax rewrite (with Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee siding with the Democrats and opposing the measure), sending the $1.4 trillion tax package, detailed in a 492 page bill, to the Conference Committee to iron out the differences between the Senate and House bill, Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (H.R. 1), that was passed by a 227-to-205 vote on November 16, 2017.

While Democrats are technically part of the conference committee, Republicans are yet again hashing out the details behind closed doors on a purely partisan basis. Democrats charge that the GOP lawmakers on the conference committee will look to rubber-stamp whatever their leadership comes up with and do not expect to see any changes to the legislation for the better.

The cores of the House and Senate bills are already very similar: tax cuts for the wealthiest and corporations paid for by middle-class Americans. Republicans are rushing to get legislation to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature before Christmas. While Trump looks forward to the first major legislative accomplishment of his presidency (once signed into law) as a Christmas gift to the nation, those opposing the massive changes to the nation’s US tax code view it as a stocking stuffed with coal.

Congressional insiders expect to see a finalized tax bill in the coming days, and votes in the House mid-next week at the earliest.

Medicare Takes a Blow

U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, sitting on the Senate Special Committee on Aging, sees the writing on the wall with the passage of the GOP tax bill. “The Republican tax plan would run up huge deficits, trigger immediate cuts to Medicare, and threaten Social Security and Medicaid down the line,” says the Rhode Island Senator.

Adds, Max Richtman, president and CEO of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare (NCPSSM), this forces the “the poor, middle class, and elderly to pick up the tab for trillions of dollars in tax breaks that the super-rich and profitable corporations do not need..” If enacted, the GOP tax fix triggers an automatic $25 billion cut to Medicare,” he warns, noting that “it blows a $1 trillion hole in the deficit, inviting deep cuts to Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”

Richtman says, “adding insult to injury” both the GOP Senate and House tax bills repeal the Obamacare mandate, which will raise ACA premiums for older adults (age 50-64) by an average of $1,500 in 2019. He notes that the Senate tax bill uses the “Chained CPI” inflation index for calculating deductions and tax brackets, this “setting a dangerous precedent that could spill over into cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security.”

In her December 7 correspondence to Congressional leadership, AARP Chief Executive Officer Jo Ann Jenkins, representing millions of members who whose health care depends on Medicare, urged lawmakers to work together in a bipartisan fashion to enact tax code legislation that would meet the needs of the older population and arrive at a tax code that is “more equitable and efficient, promotes growth, and produces sufficient revenue to pay for critical national programs, including Medicare and Medicaid.”

Jenkins urged Congress to prevent $25 billion in automatic cuts to Medicare in 2018 that would result from the enactment of H.R. 1 and its $1.5 trillion deficit increase (according to the Congressional Budget Office) since it “would have an immediate and lasting impact, including fewer providers participating in Medicare and reduced access to care for Medicare beneficiaries.”

“The sudden cut to Medicare provider funding in 2018 would have an immediate and lasting impact, including fewer providers participating in Medicare and reduced access to care for Medicare beneficiaries,” said Jenkins, who warned that health care providers may choose to stop accepting Medicare patients at a time when the Medicare population is growing by 10,000 new beneficiaries each day.

Jenkins also expressed her concern that Medicare Advantage plans and Part D prescription drug plans may charge higher premiums or cost-sharing in future years to make up for the cuts now.

The Devil is in the Details

On the AARP website, Gary Strauss, an AARP staff writer and editor, posted an article on December 6, 2017, “Your 2018 Taxes? Congress Now Deciding,” that identifies specific GOP tax bill provisions that hit older tax payers in their wallets.

According to Strauss, an AARP Public Policy Institute analysis also found that more than one million taxpayers 65 and older would pay higher taxes in 2019, and more than 5 million would see their taxes increase by 2027. More than 5 million seniors would not receive a tax break at all in 2019, and 5.6 million would not see their taxes decrease by 2027.

The House and Senate tax bills also have differing views on the medical expense deduction, used by nearly 75 percent of filers age 50 and older, says Strauss. The Senate plan allows taxpayers to deduct medical expenses exceeding 7.5 percent of their income rather than a current 10 percent — for the next two years. The House tax plan eliminates this deduction. Some 70 percent of filers who use the deduction have incomes below $75,000.

Strauss says that the House bill eliminates the extra standard deduction for those age 65 and up, while the Senate bill retains it. For 2017, that’s $1,250 for individuals, $1,550 for heads of households or $2,500 for couples who are both 65 and older. .

Both Senate and House versions abolish state and local tax deductions, with the exception of up to $10,000 in property taxes. Residents in high-tax states such as California, Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, would pay higher taxes, adds Strauss.

For home owners, Strauss notes that the Senate plan leaves interest deduction limits at $1 million, while the House bill lowers the mortgage interest deduction limit to $500,000 and no longer allows it to be used for second homes, says Strauss.. Individuals would also continue to get up to $250,000 tax-free from the sale of a home (up to $500,000 for couples). But, both bills require sellers to live in the property five of the eight years prior to a sale, up from the current requirement of two of the last five years,” adds Strauss.

At press time, dozens of newspapers are reporting that Americans across the nation are protesting the passage of GOP tax bill that makes the biggest changes to the U.S. tax code in 30 years, calling it a “scam.” AARP and NCPSSM are mobilizing their millions of members to protect Medicare, Social Security and Medicaid.

While Trump told Senators at a lunch meeting held on December 5 at the White House that the Republican tax plan was becoming “more popular,” two recently released polls are telling us a completely different story. According to a Gallup national poll, a majority of independents (56 percent) join 87 percent of Democrats in opposing the tax plan. Only 29 percent of Americans overall approve of the proposed GOP changes to the nation’s tax code. Reflecting Gallup’s finding, the Quinnipiac University national poll found that 53 percent of American voters disapprove of the tax plan, while only 29 approve.

With mid-term Congressional elections less than a year away, Trump and the GOP-controlled Congress continued push to dismantle Obamacare, leaving millions without health care coverage and creating a tax code that would destroy Medicare, may well bring millions of older taxpayers to the polls to clean house. We’ll see.

“Bosom Buddies” Brings Healing to Breast Cancer Survivors

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 26, 2017

Sometimes a personal health-related issue and one’s professional life experiences blend together almost seamlessly to create an opportunity to help others in similar situations. It took over 20 years for Mary Jane Condon Bohlen, a Cranston resident, professional photographer, artist, former teacher and breast cancer survivor, to do just that, achieving her dream of publishing her book, “Bosom Buddies.”

Each photograph of the 29 women posing in “Bosom Buddies” reveals the scars of breast reconstruction and the coffee table book also features an essay, poem, or other writing from the model on the opposite page, providing further insight into the journey through breast cancer.

“I chose the name “Bosom Buddies” as the title of this book and photographed my “buddies” kayaking, riding horses, working in their gardens, singing, doing yoga and other loves,” says Bohlen. “I sought to reveal the thoughts, fears, inner spirit and especially the hopes of those brave enough to bare their bodies and show their beauty,” in a book that took two years to complete.

In May of 2008, after living with a mastectomy of her right breast for 16 years, she was told that cancer had returned to her left side. Now with two mastectomies, breast cancer gave her the insight and wisdom to photograph women in a very vulnerable health state that appear in “Bosom Buddies.” The women photographed are typical of women who “battle breast cancer every day.”

“They have taken their bravery one step further by allowing themselves to be photographed in subtle and delicate settings,” says Bohlen.

The Inspiration

As a fourth grader, Bohlen began taking pictures with a camera that her parents gave her. In later years, as a medical photographer working in hospitals all over the City of Boston, she photographed artificial hearts being implanted in pigs and cows, cutting edge surgeries on humans, a 16mm movie of a lung transplant in a rat photographed through a microscope, social events that included dignitaries, film, TV, and Broadway stars, weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, PR work, in addition to her own fine art photography, including the publishing of “Bosom Buddies.”

Bohlen, 73, remembers that her desire to publish “Bosom Buddies” began in 1993 in Ledyard, Connecticut, one year after she was diagnosed and treated for breast cancer. Standing by a magnificent tree over 400 years old, 90 feet high with a circumference of over 26 feet, where Native Americans gathered to vote on tribal issues, Bohlen began snapping photos of the remains of the dead tree damaged by gypsy moths over the centuries. Upon close inspection of the printed images she saw a one breasted figure and that immediately inspired her to create an aquatint etching, she would call “Bosom Buddy.”

“The Ledyard Oak became my “Bosom Buddy” and helped me to relate to my inner beauty that was so much more meaningful than what was found beneath my clothing,” says Bohlen.

Ultimately her etching would lead to the publishing of a coffee table book including photos and essays of breast cancer survivors expressing how breast cancer may have affected their lives. A short biography about what they are now doing with their life is also included. “I wanted the world to know that there is life after breast cancer. Life goes on and it isn’t always a death sentence,” she says.

Reflections from “Bosom Buddies”

Sharyn Vicente, 52, of Cumberland, was photographed at a spa in Arizona during a very special trip. In 2008, Vicente was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 41. Initially she did not wish to be photographed but went outside of her comfort level to participate in the project.

Vicente details in her essay in “Bosom Buddies” how breast cancer impacted her life. “It was a long road with many unexpected bumps along the way. In three short years, I had both breasts removed, half of my right kidney, my uterus and both ovaries. While I felt that my body was systematically being hollowed out, I thought that I really didn’t deserve yet another escape from the grim reaper. This all also made me feel as though I was no longer a woman.”

But, “Cancer did not and will not rule my life,” says a reflective Vicente in her biography, noting that she spends time fundraising for the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation (GGBCRF) and mentoring woman going through the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer. Participating in this book project began the healing process

Nicole Bourget-Brien, 47, a two-time breast cancer survivor celebrating a decade of being cancer free was photographed lifting hand weights in her brother-in-law’s gym. The photograph captured how she felt that day, “strong”

The Woonsocket resident was warned that after the mastectomy she might not be able to exercise at the same level as before the surgery. But, “I have proven that to be false. I am working out more vigorously now than I did when I was in my twenties,” she says.

In her biography in the book, Bourget-Brien says, “I have made a choice to live and not just exist after my cancer diagnosis. I have learned to breathe- to remember that the rearview mirror is smaller because it is where we have been and to look thru the windshield to enjoy what lies ahead.”

Tracey Donahue Henebury, 48, sits on a rock by a pond sunning herself. She urges readers of “Bosom Buddies” to “look beyond the scars and nudity and read each and every heartwarming story which describes the strength, sacrifices, and fears each one of us has faced.” The book is just “breathtaking,” she says.

Over the last couple of years, she has been on “an emotional roller coaster due to the complications of her mastectomy,” admits Henebury. In “Bosom Buddies,”she states “Nothing has knocked me down where I don’t get back up on my feet.” Support from family and friends and The Gloria Gemma Foundation “enhanced my scars as beauty and strength.”

Of course, you will find a self-portrait showing Bohlen wearing boxing gloves, ready to fight a battle against cancer. After her second mastectomy, neither her friends nor her family “got it.” “No one to tell me they knew what I was going through, no one to ask questions about what to expect. I knew no one else with breast cancer, it was a lonely journey,” she says in her essay in “Bosom Buddies.”

Relocating to Rhode Island and connecting with the Pawtucket-based GGBCRF changed her life, providing her with a support system and friends. She supports the nonprofit by donating 50 percent of the profits of her $40 book to the Foundation.

Bohlen now resides with her husband of almost 47 years, Bob, in Cranston, her daughter, Nie and 8-year-old grandson, Sam, along with her youngest son, Patrick live close by while her older son, Bobby lives in Portland, OR.

There is a real need for this book to find its way to women recently diagnosed with breast cancer and to their families and friends. In 2017, Breast cancer will claim the lives of 40,610 woman throughout the nation, predicts the American Cancer Society, a nationwide voluntary health organization dedicated to eliminating cancer. More than 300,000 women in the U.S. will become breast cancer survivors.

“Bosom Buddies” has allowed the breast cancer survivors participating in this unique book project to come to terms with their inner and exterior scars, and has enhanced their body image after a mastectomy. Bohlen knows that this healing will take place in the readers as well.

At the 2016 National Indie Excellence Awards, Bohlen’s book, “Bosom Buddies” was one of three Finalists in the Photography division and the winner in the Cancer books division.

To purchase, call Mary Jane Condon Bohlen at 401-474-8903 or email to bosombuddies1@verizon.net.

Aging Groups: House GOP Tax Rewrite a Turkey

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 19, 2017

Thanksgiving approaches the GOP-Controlled House has passed H.R. 1, “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” its tax reform legislation, on November 16, by a partisan vote of 227 to 206, with 13 Republicans siding with the Democrats. The House tax bill would dramatically reduce corporate and individual income taxes and would increase the deficit by $ 1.7 trillion over 10 years — — possibly offset by $ $338 billion saved by repealing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) individual mandate.

On Thursday, after four days of debate, members of the Senate Finance Committee voted 14 to 12 along party lines to approve their version of the tax package. Now the full Senate is expected to consider the bill after Thanksgiving hoping to quickly get it to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

Medicare and ACA Takes a Hit

Matt Shepard, of the Center for Medicare Advocacy, warns that the GOP’s attempt to overhaul to nation’s tax code is an immediate threat to the Medicare program and healthcare coverage to millions of Americans covered by ACA.

According to Shepard, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projects that the huge cost for the Republican tax plan would result in immediate, automatic and ongoing cuss to Medicare — $25 billion in 2018 alone.

After the GOP’s failed attempts to repeal the ACA, the Senate now uses a provision in its tax rewrite plan to finally repeal the ACA’s individual mandate to purchase insurance coverage in order to help pay for tax cuts, he says. If the GOP tax reform legislation becomes law, 13 million more people will be without health coverage and increasing premiums will disproportionately affect people age 50 who are not yet eligible for Medicare.

“These new dangers are on top of an already bad bill. Congress is engaged in a rushed effort to push through a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy, presenting a clear and present danger to health coverage, other vital programs, and families throughout the nation,” says Shepard.

“After adding $1.5 trillion to the federal debt, policymakers will use the higher debt – created by the tax cuts – to argue that deep cuts to Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and other bedrock programs are necessary,” predicts Shepard.

Responding to the House passage of its tax reform bill, just days ago, in a statement AARP Executive Vice President and Chief Advocacy & Engagement Officer Nancy LeaMond expressed disappointment in passage, warning that the legislation is harmful to millions of Americans age 65 and over.

Older Tax Payers Get Financial Hit with GOP Tax Code Fix

“AARP estimates H.R. 1 will raise taxes on 1.2 million seniors next year alone. Millions more older Americans will see tax increases in the future, or at best, no tax relief at all,” says LeaMond.

As Congress continues its debate to hammer out tax reform, LeaMond calls on lawmakers to retain the medical expense deduction at the 7.5% income threshold for older tax filers. “Nearly three-quarters of tax filers who claim the medical expense deduction are age 50 or older and live with a chronic health condition or illness. Seventy percent of filers who claim this deduction have income below $75,000.,” she says, urging that Congress also retain the standard deduction for older taxpayers, which helps reduce tax liability and can help seniors avoid a tax increase.

AARP also urges Congress to assist working family caregivers in a new tax code that creates a new, non-refundable tax credit to offset the often high out-of-pocket costs associated with caring for a loved one.

Finally, LeaMond calls on Congress to reject adding a provision in the tax bill that will lead to higher premium costs in the individual insurance market, as well as 13 million Americans losing their health coverage, including 2 million Americans who would lose employer-sponsored coverage.

In a statement, Max Richtman, President and CEO, National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, calls the House passed tax rewrite, “Robin Hood-in-Reverse tax legislation.” Now, the House Republicans have sent out a “crystal-clear message “that the elderly, disabled, poor, and working class are no longer part of the GOP’s vision for America,” he says.

Blooming Deficit Might Trigger Raid Social Security

“This craven giveaway to the wealthy and big corporations at the expense of everyone else flies in the face of public opinion, basic decency, and good old common sense, says Richtman, “By ballooning the deficit, Republicans have teed up a raid on Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid to make up the difference,” he warns.

“The repeal of the medical expense deduction will punish seniors paying out of pocket for treatment of chronic and serious diseases – or long-term care., says Richtman.

With Senate Republicans gearing up their efforts to pass their version of the House’s “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” Richtman calls on Senators “to show courage and to do what House Republicans refused to [do]: stop the tax juggernaut before it does irreparable harm to our nation.”

If the GOP tax reform legislation is passed by Congress and signed into law by President Trump, we will quickly find out by Christmas if it a financial gift to America’s middle class or a lump of coal in their stockings. Aging groups already know this answer.

New Report Charges that States Disfranchise Older Voters

Published in Woonsocket Call on November 11, 2017

Since 1948, Wisconsin resident Christine Krucki had voted in every presidential election, but effectively lost her right to vote when her state enacted a voter ID law in 2011. An old Illinois photo ID and proof of her residence in Wisconsin was just not good enough to allow her to cast a vote.

Krucki did not have a birth certificate and was forced to purchase one for $20. However, her last name on the document did not match her current last name, changed when she married. She then paid $15 dollars for a copy of her marriage certificate , but that document listed her list name differently than her birth name, as she was adopted a different name after moving in with her stepsister when she was in her early 20s. Changing her name on the Illinois marriage certificate to match her birth certificate to solve the problem would cost between $ 150 and
$ 300.

The obstacles Krucki faced when attempting to exercise her right to vote are encountered by millions of older Americans when they attempt to vote. With the 2018 mid-term elections less than a year away, two U.S. Senators release a report detailing Krucki’s problem at the polls, and notes how suppressive state laws and inaccessible voting locations disenfranchise older voters.

Pushing Older Voters Away from the Polls

Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the Special Committee on Aging, and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ranking Member of the Committee on Rules and Administration’s 15 page report, “Barriers to Voting for Older Americans: How States are Making it Harder for Seniors to Vote,” finds that strict voter identification (ID) laws, closure of voting locations, inaccessible polling places and limits on early voting and absentee ballots are preventing seniors and people with disabilities from casting votes.

“The right to vote is one of the fundamental pillars of American democracy. But, that right is under threat for millions of older Americans and individuals with disabilities across the nation,” stated Sen. Bob Casey in a statement announcing the report’s release. “This report brings awareness to the unique challenges that seniors face in exercising their constitutional right. We must work to ensure that all Americans have equal access to the voting booth.”

“The right to vote is the foundation of our democracy, but exercising that right is becoming harder and harder for many Americans, especially our seniors,” add Sen. Klobuchar, noting that long lines, inaccessible polling places, and strict voter ID laws have become barriers to voting for older Americans. “This important report shines a light on the hardships these voters face and proposes common sense solutions to make voting easier for everyone. We need to do more to restore Americans’ confidence in our political system. Our first step should be making it easier for their voices to be heard on Election Day,” he says.

The report, released on Nov. 2, also includes new information from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that only 17 percent of the polling places it examined during the 2016 election were fully accessible. Most polling places GAO examined had one or more impediments from parking to the voting area and had accessible voting stations that could impede private and independent voting.

According to the report, suppressive voting laws and issues of accessibility affect tens of millions of older Americans and people with disabilities. In the 2016 election, 30 percent of the voters were between the ages of 50 and 64-years-old and 13 percent were 65 and older. Sixteen million (11.5 percent) of the 139 million votes were cast by people with disabilities. As the baby boomer population continues to age, these restrictions and barriers are likely to adversely impact more Americans.

In order to protect the voting rights of older voters and persons with disabilities, the report calls on Congress to ensure the full authorization and empowerment of all federal voting laws, which will make polling places accessible to older voters. Access to polls can also be increased by allowing opportunities for accessible early voting and absentee voting. Finally, it calls on limiting restrictions on voting and ensure that election laws fully consider the needs and abilities of older Americans.

Reflections from Rhode Island

“The depth of this issue varies from state to state,” says AARP State Director Kathleen Connell, who herself is a former Rhode Island Secretary of State. “I believe that older Rhode Islanders are well protected here, but we must be vigilant. Older Rhode Islanders are traditionally the most engaged voting group. Their voices are important and should not be silenced in any way.”

“I would add, however, that deliberate voter suppression is a threat to voters of all ages and the implications are as serious as they are obvious.

“When Voter ID legislation was passed in Rhode Island, we worked with then Secretary of State Ralph Mollis to set up photo booths to create ID cards for voters who did not have proper photo IDs. It was well received, but transportation was identified as a barrier to reaching some potential voters. Fortunately there were other remedies in place and, I have to say, no one contacted us saying they were prohibited from voting.”

Adds, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea, this report presents a troubling situation across our country. The right to vote is sacred. I have spent the past three years modernizing our elections so that we can engage and empower all Rhode Islanders. Civic participation at all age levels is critical to our success as a state. I will continue to work to remove barriers so that eligible Rhode Islanders can have easier access to the ballot.”

Joe Graziano, Gorbea’s Communication Coordinator, notes that the GAO findings cited in this “Barriers to Voting” report is based on Council on State Governments research that his Department did not have a chance to review. “While it is not called “early voting”, Rhode Island does have an emergency mail ballot period that allows Rhode Islanders to cast their ballot ahead of Election Day without an excuse, says Graziano, noting that older voters have been able to use this system, in fact, 45 percent of the emergency mail ballots cast last year were by Rhode Islanders 65 and older.

Graziano admits that the GAO report shines a light on some of the barriers to voting across the nation. “Secretary Gorbea agrees that access to voting is critical and has successfully strived to improve it in the last three years including the introduction of online voter registration, automatic voter registration and the implementation of new, easier to use elections technologies (voting machines and ePoll books). Additionally, she has redesigned the ballot and the voter information guide to make them easier to read and understand. She also introduced legislation to update and expand opportunities for early, in-person voting,” he says.

“As a way to mitigate the negative impact of the photo ID requirement for voting, the Rhode Island Department of State has made sure that free photo Voter IDs are available to people in the communities where they live,” says Graziano, noting that last year alone, the Secretary of State staff held 51 events at senior centers and retirement facilities to ensure that eligible, older voters had proper voter identification, were introduced to new voting technologies and had any of their elections related questions answered by our Elections Division staff.

Looking to the upcoming General Assembly Session, Graziano says that Secretary Gorbea will once again introduce legislation for early in-person voting. “The legislation would eliminate the need for emergency mail ballots by allowing voters to cast their ballot at their local city or town hall, up to 20 days prior to an election, including the Saturday and Sunday prior to Election Day,” he says.

For more details about the Senate voting obstacle report, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Voting%20Rights%20Report.pdf.

RI Minority Elder Task Force Spotlights ‘Everyday Heroes’

Published in the Woonsocket Call on November 5, 2017

Last Thursday, the Rhode Island Minority Elder Task Force (RIMETF), a nonprofit group that advocates for cultural competent services for elders from minority groups, recognized “Everyday Heroes” who make a difference in the community while also raising money to provide limited emergency assistance to low-income seniors in crisis situations.

RIMETF fund raising efforts combine with grants to fulfill its mission of financially helping low-income seniors, says Susan Sweet, the nonprofit’s founder and treasurer. RIMETF provides $200 to low income seniors to help pay utility costs, rent, food, medications, clothing, furniture, personal healthcare items and other necessities of life, she says, noting that approximately 80 grants, about half going to minority applicants, are given out annually.

Sweet says, “During the last two decades, RIMETF provided more than $53,000 in grants, successfully raising approximately $7,000 at the November 2 fundraiser. Over 150 supporters in attendance from around the state came to the East Providence Cape Verdean Progressive Center to honor eleven ‘Everyday Heroes’ who made outstanding contributions to many people throughout Rhode Island.”

According to Chairperson Lori Brennan-Almeida, her nonprofit group’s fundraising efforts are fluid, changing every year as needed. “Last year the nonprofit group held a full-day learning conference on Cultural Competence in Healthcare and Social Services for nurses, social workers and Certified Nursing Assistants, attracting over 100 attendees.”

“The idea for recognizing unsung heroes who work with Rhode Island’s minority residents was tossed around for the past couple of years,” says Almeida, noting that some of the honorees of this year’s fundraiser had never been recognized for their outstanding work

Introducing RIMETF’s 2007 “Everyday Heroes”…

Kathy Blunt

After Blunt, at 74 years of age, initially interviewed at Orchard View Manor, she got a letter a week later informing her that she did not get the job. Luckily for the residents, the position became open again and she was hired at the East Providence-based nursing facility in 2010 and quickly became an “indispensable gift to residents and a team builder between departments,” say facility staff.

Joseph Caffey, Sr.

The late Joseph Caffey, Sr., a visionary for high standards of service in affordable housing during his 24 years as the President and CEO of Omni Development and a leader in the Rhode Island’s affordable housing sector, were key to his recognition by RIMETF. Caffey’s vision led him to partner with the Providence Center to bring a mental health satellite office to the Olneyville-based Valley Apartments to assist the mental health needs of the tenants. He also hired employees with social work degrees to provide clinical services to tenants.

Trudence “Trudy” Conroy

Staff at the Newport County Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) consider Trudy to be a model volunteer who brings her knowledge, warm wit and compassion into counseling and advice to assist Medicare eligible seniors choose a Medicare insurance plan that fits their specific health needs. Trudy has amassed almost 700 hours as a SHIP volunteer over the past two years.

Carol Corey

For over 20 years, Corey, 75, of West Warwick, has visited the sick and lonely residing in local nursing facilities and hospitals. She shops for these individuals, bringing them needed toiletries, special treats, flowers, and even small articles of clothing, all paid on her own. She is known for being “low key” and never forgetting birthdays or special occasions, and celebrating holidays with people who have no friends or family.

Garo Emdjian

In 1980 Emdjian, now 76, emigrated from Armenia to the U.S. and he has never looked back. Emdjian’s life mission now is to give back to his adopted country, for over 25 years giving countless volunteer hours to local nonprofit agencies that have included Rhode Island Meals-on-Wheels, Fox Point Senior Center, Federal Hill House, Hamilton House, the Blood Bank and Fox Point Manor. Despite the many honors he has received over the years, Emdjian will tell you he does not volunteer for the recognition but for the true love and commitment to be of service to others.

Cynthia Hiatt, Esq.

Just six months after Hiatt retired from a 37 year career serving as Chief Legal Counsel for the Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights, she came back to fight discrimination and racism again by serving as one of the seven governor-appointed commissioners of the Commission. As a volunteer Hiatt meets monthly to rule on cases and presides over hearings and investigative conferences, continuing to fight to enforce antidiscrimination laws and to end discrimination against older Rhode Islanders, the disabled and people of color.

Adrienne Marchetti

Those who know Marchetti as Director of the Pawtucket Soup Kitchen, use descriptive words such as: competent, respectful, creative, talented, selfless, as well as generous, and always welcoming to those she serves. Adrienne works 7 days a week from early morning until evening cooking and serving food to some of the poorest residents and homeless individuals in Pawtucket. Even in winter, after a very long day serving those who come to her soup kitchen, she prepares a satisfying supper and what is left over, she delivers to the night shelter at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church to feed their 15 homeless residents.

Christine Reitman

For 26 years, Reitman, a Resident Service Coordinator at Property Advisory Group, has always advocated for her residents, always going above and beyond her normal duties. Recognizing the low income of her residents along with their social and health issues, she organized Saturday coffee hours, passing out needed everyday items to attendees, personally purchased from a local dollar store. The regular gatherings provide residents with a social network and informal forum to talk about personal issues.

Irene Sadlik

Coming to the United States from the Czech Republic nearly 30 years ago, Sadlik, with no formal training in health care, found her life’s passion working for the housekeeping department in a nursing facility. The former seamstress had an exceptional rapport with the residents, quickly responding to their needs and becoming their tireless advocate. Ultimately, to further her goal of working with older Rhode Islander’s she left her job at the nursing facility and opened up her own non-skilled home care agency. She has since taken a cancer patient into her home to try to give her a chance to enjoy her final days.

Mary Kay Uchmanowicz

Uchmanowicz, a Board Certified Audiologist who founded the Smithfield-based Twin Rivers Hearing Health in Smithfield in 2001, uses her empathy and specialized training to treat hearing problems of her older patients. Over the years, she has collected discarded hearing aids and brought them to the Philippines, spending weeks screening and fitting underprivileged children and adults with these donated hearing aids. “It is a privilege to help others,” says the audiologist who volunteers her time providing ear checks, audiometric testing, cleaning hearing aids, and answering questions at North Providence Senior Center and the Villa at St Antoine.

Henrietta “Henrie” Tonia White-Holder

White-Holder, founder and CEO of Higher Ground International, is committed to bringing clean water and sanitation to her native Liberia. Through the nonprofit organization, she opened the new RUKIYA (uplifting) Center on the south side of Providence, which focuses on programs for African immigrants, elders and youth, literacy and workforce issues. Henrie served on the United Way’s Executive Director Leadership Circle, received the Providence Newspaper Guild Public Service Award, the Extraordinary Woman Award for Education, and was conferred the RI Liberian Humanitarian Award.

For more details regarding the work of the RI Minority Elder Task Force or to make a donation, write RIMETF, 5 Leahy Street, Rumford, RI 02916 or call Lori Brennan Almeida, Chairperson, at 401-497-1287.