Community Innovations During COVID-19 Response at Center of New Report

A new report offers insights from communities’ response during the coronavirus pandemic and demonstrates their nimbleness in creating more inclusive and equitable systems to support older people. How Innovative Community Responses to COVID-19 Support Healthy Aging is the result of a collaboration between the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs, Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative and Tufts Health Plan Foundation.

The research, conducted by FSG, highlights strategies employed by communities and offers recommendations for stronger results moving forward. The report was funded by Tufts Health Plan Foundation. “In the face of unprecedented challenges, communities across Massachusetts have organized in remarkable ways,” said Elder Affairs Secretary Elizabeth Chen. “Communities leveraged existing structures and cross-sector collaborations to serve older adults in new and creative ways, and we look forward to these innovations continuing to support them during the pandemic and as we move forward.”

The research focused on six communities particularly affected by the pandemic. Four cities—Chelsea, Lynn, Brockton, and Lawrence—are diverse and experienced some of the highest COVID-19 infection rates in the state; and the Cape and Hilltowns regions, rural and geographically isolated communities with older populations.

“This experience is a chance to learn and do things differently moving forward. It’s time to explicitly support efforts led by and for communities of color, to focus on structural gaps and advance equity and justice,” said Nora Moreno Cargie, president of Tufts Health Plan Foundation and vice president for Corporate Citizenship at Tufts Health Plan.

A key finding in the report is that several protective factors enabled many older people to access services and meaningfully contribute time and talent to assist others. The authors note the value of collaboration and that “tight-knit networks…dedicated to the wellbeing of the community” were critical.

“Age-friendly coalitions and other collaborative groups are proving that partnerships matter,” said James Fuccione, senior director of the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative. “These networks involving different municipal departments, community-based organizations, and volunteers are able to collectively and effectively align resources, disseminate information, and facilitate communication.”

“It was inspiring to see communities thinking and working differently to meet the needs of older people during the pandemic,” said Tiffany Clarke, a director at FSG. “I am encouraged by organizations’ aspirations to sustain the work to make services more accessible, inclusive, and equitable. Government and philanthropy play important roles in ensuring communities can continue this work while also evolving to meet emerging needs.”

Read the full report