In the spring of 2009, the Tufts Health Plan Foundation launched a new strategic initiative for its grantmaking focused on healthy aging for older adults age 60 or older. Along with this new focus on grants to community organizations promoting healthy aging, the foundation made a grant to the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum to research policy and public education approaches aimed at building a healthy aging movement in Massachusetts.
The Issue Brief (Leutz and Driscoll, 2009) that was developed included a multifaceted definition of healthy aging, one that is much more than the presence or absence of disease and disability. This multi-dimensional model encompasses all aspects of a person’s life and plays out in the context of friends, family, and communities that should provide support for older adults to have easy access to services to maximize their independence and quality of life. The model also includes a socio-ecological framework of health which states that we are all shaped by our environments, while we act simultaneously to shape our environments. In addition, the brief provided an overview of the status of healthy aging programming in the Commonwealth.
To present the brief and further discussions on the topic, the Tufts Health Plan Foundation and Massachusetts Health Policy Forum teamed to host a healthy aging forum in Boston in December 2009. More than 300 policy experts, government officials, academic leaders, advocates and representatives of community-based organizations that work with older adults attended this first forum. The conference, Healthy Aging in the Commonwealth: Pathways to Lifelong Wellness, included speakers from the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs, Department of Public Health, Commonwealth Care Alliance, Hebrew SeniorLife and a keynote by Nancy Whitelaw from the National Council on Aging. Walter Leutz presented the Issue Brief.
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After the December 2009 Forum, the Tufts Health Plan Foundation and Massachusetts Health Policy Forum formed a healthy aging steering committee of key experts and leaders from government, academia, the provider community and grassroots organizations that work with older adults. This committee met three times in 2010 to identify and articulate the focus areas for constructing an action plan for a broad state initiative on healthy aging. The committee discussions led to two important decisions: (1) to identify three priority program elements and four crosscutting elements for the healthy aging strategy, and (2) to form subcommittees to develop plans to advance those elements.
The three program elements were:
- Healthy Aging Programs: Build and maintain a statewide infrastructure of healthy aging programming for older adults.
- Public Awareness: Improve public images of older adults in society and raise awareness of the benefits of active, healthy living among older adults.
- Healthy Aging Communities: Launch projects in select cities or towns that build healthy aging into the fabric of communities by addressing environmental factors and coordinating with government as well as other community resources and organizations.
In addition, four other crosscutting elements rose to the top as essential components of each of the above:
- Older Adult Engagement: Engage older adults in all aspects of the healthy aging strategy.
- Evaluation: Build a research and evaluation infrastructure that demonstrates the value of healthy aging efforts.
- Leadership: Create a structure to lead a broad, ongoing movement for healthy aging.
- Systems Linkages: Build bridges to companion services (e.g., health care, home care, long-term care, transportation, congregate housing, social and cultural groups).
At the second statewide healthy aging forum in September 2010 in Boston, this work was summarized in a second Issue Brief (Leutz and Driscoll, 2010). In addition, the leaders of the subcommittees were announced and speakers shared expertise on each of the three program elements. The conference also offered opportunities for participants who were interested in getting involved in the planning process.
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Following the September 2010 forum, the three subcommittees met throughout 2011 to formulate a comprehensive healthy aging action plan, which laid out goals, milestones, roles, and resource strategies.
In December 2011, the steering committee decided to accept the work of the subcommittees and to continue to meet on a regular basis as the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative, led by a 12-member executive committee. The executive committee met three times in 2012, and 31 members of the entire Collaborative met in April 2012. Collaborative members agreed during these meetings that the Collaborative serves several important purposes to its members, including:
- Providing updates on developments in the state such as new programs.
- Providing a place where members can decide how to respond to new funding and program opportunities.
- Providing a place to identify opportunities to leverage each other’s work.
- Providing a place to discuss and shape goals, strategies and messages.
- Providing a base for expanding membership.
A third Issue Brief (Leutz and Schneider, 2012) was prepared for the third healthy aging forum, which was held in December 2012. In the brief, the Collaborative assessed the existing infrastructure of healthy aging activities in Massachusetts by reviewing reports, policy literature, websites, and conducting 14 key informant interviews with state agencies, evidence-based and healthy community programs, nonprofits, and foundations. The Issue Brief also contains a list of all members of the executive committee and the larger Collaborative.
The Collaborative identified three potential areas of focus. First, to support the creation and sustainability of a network of evidence-based healthy aging programs across the state that could be easily accessed by adults of all ages who have a chronic illness. This effort is led by the Healthy Living Center of Excellence (HLCE) and capitalizes on its existing statewide infrastructure of evidence-based programs that includes training and technical assistance, cross-regional marketing and referral sources, program evaluation, and coordination with regional lead agencies.
The second focus area entails motivating communities to create environments that support healthy aging through the engagement of both public and private agencies, community organizations, and the community itself.
Finally, the last focus was to create a public awareness strategy to inform the public, policy makers and other key stakeholders about the Collaborative and the healthy aging movement in Massachusetts. The impetus for this website as an ongoing communications vehicle came at the urging of Collaborative members who wanted a way to not only inform others but also communicate and network with each other in between forums, share resources and connect with each other around important healthy aging topics. In addition to this website, Collaborative members noted that there were no comprehensive data on healthy aging that could be used by local communities to effectively understand their 65+ populations and use for planning, program design and advocacy.
The Tufts Health Plan Foundation was already a well-known leader in healthy aging in Massachusetts through its grantmaking activities, its support of the Healthy Aging Forums and the Healthy Aging Collaborative. The foundation stepped forward to fund both the website and data report, providing a new level of leadership around healthy aging in Massachusetts.
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