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by Maureen Maigret, chair, Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council
David Cicilline affirms “the needs and priorities of aging Rhode Islanders must remain paramount”
David Cicilline, President and CEO of the Rhode Island Foundation and former member of Congress, was the keynote speaker at the 15th Annual Conference and Expo held on October 10th at Warwick’s Crowne Plaza. Cicilline told the sellout crowd of 300 persons that the Conference theme, “The Politics of Aging”, is “something I’ve personally focused on for much of my career and certainly during my time in Congress, and it’s something that I intend to focus on at the Foundation as well.”
With estimates showing that one in four Rhode Islanders will be 65 or older, he said, “the needs and priorities of aging Rhode Islanders must remain paramount.” He noted recent Congressional action to curb the high cost of prescription drugs would not have happened without the advocacy efforts of aging Americans including Rhode Island seniors. “You all have a great deal of power and influence on how public policies happen,” he said. “The stories you have — the experiences you have — are some of the most powerful things and you need to share them.”
In video messages U.S. Senator Jack Reed spoke of his efforts to address affordable housing and U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse described his legislation to strengthen Social Security and Medicare. Congressman Seth Magaziner attended the Conference in person telling attendees, “We need to make sure that in Rhode Island and across the country, we redouble our efforts and do everything we can to make sure that older Americans are able to live in dignity.” In welcoming remarks, Governor Dan McKee spoke of the need to work with colleagues in the general assembly to invest in seniors and rely on their guidance and Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos spoke of the report of the Housing Subcommittee of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council that includes recommendations to address the housing needs of older adults and persons with disabilities.
Conference Plenary sessions included two issue-oriented panels: Housing Affordability, Access and Options and Issues, Action and Advocacy. In his panel presentation Housing Secretary Stephen Pryor noted the lack of affordable, safe, accessible housing options for those living on fixed incomes. He announced $4.5 million will be available for low-income Rhode Islanders to make necessary repairs to their homes to include things such as roofing, heating/cooling and home modifications. Also, older people and those with disabilities will be among lower-income, vulnerable populations to benefit from a $27 million Priority Projects fund.
Housing Works RI Executive Director Brenda Clement discussed the work of a study funded by Blue Cross Blue Shield RI and the Point 32 Foundation that her office is conducting on the housing needs of older Rhode Islanders. She reported that almost 70% of RI owner housing units were built prior to 1980 and 57% of the state’s householder are age 50+. Rep. June Speakman (Bristol, Warren), discussed the work of the Affordable Housing Commission she chairs which is working on ways to increase housing production and to promote development of accessory dwelling units sometimes called “granny flats.”
In speaking on issues and advocacy, Office of Healthy Aging Director Maria Cimini said persons age 65+ are projected to comprise one out of four persons in the state by 2030. She also noted a significant rise in reports of elder abuse and neglect. Despite this data, state funding for community supports for seniors has failed to reflect the growing numbers.
Maureen Maigret, chair of the Aging in Community Subcommittee of the Long Term Care Coordinating Council, discussed the need for strengthening information services and the high cost of long term care options. She noted that the healthcare worker crisis has impacted home care access with some persons waiting two and three months to receive services. Increased provider reimbursements and better wages for direct care staff are part of the solution she said. As many older households are financially insecure – half have income less than $50,000 and one out of four less than $25,000 – Maigret called for advocacy to expand the state’s home and community care subsidy program and the Medicare Savings Program which pays for Part B premiums.
Rep. Lauren Carson (Newport) reported on a new Commission she is chairing to study programs and coordination of services for older Rhode Islanders. She wants to bring the Commission to two communities to hear from seniors themselves. In closing remarks, Senior Agenda Coalition Executive Director Cynthia Coyne emphasized the importance of seniors advocating for issues and legislation important to them and to contact their local legislators to let them know about their concerns.
Maureen has throughout her career showed care and compassion for all, but especially the senior citizens.
Thank you Maureen.