Creating an environment where a broad set of stakeholders can come together to address the needs of a community has never been more important and valuable than this past year.
We learned the true importance of relationships and collaboration while society gained a greater awareness of social isolation, disparities in technology access, and inequities within and between communities.
The age and dementia friendly movement has great potential and opportunity. However, the foundational “good” that it brings is convening a group to listen to community members and then think, discuss and act on how that city, town, region or state can be a great place to grow up and grow old. The relationships and partnerships that ensue create a collaborative and cooperative culture where more is possible.
As it was put in a report conducted by FSG with the support of the Tufts Health Plan Foundation with input from MHAC and the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, such relationships are among a list of “protective factors” that support older adults. In other words, partnership is prevention and supports healthy aging – especially during a crisis.
Thanks to the partnerships and connections created by the age- and dementia friendly movement and many other pre-existing coalitions, communities and partners were able to be creative and innovative in supporting older adults and people of all ages. The relationships, however they began, promoted a more collective and cooperative response that may not have taken place otherwise.
While MHAC is always proud of our partnerships, we are especially grateful for a cross-sector network dedicated to listening and understanding our community’s needs and responding effectively. MHAC especially thanks its Executive Committee and Advisory Council, along with our dedicated and generous supporters in the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, Massachusetts Councils on Aging, Executive Office of Elder Affairs and Elder Services of the Merrimack Valley and North Shore.
The following represent some of our activity over the past year to support healthy aging and ensure the needs and strengths of older adults are considered.
- MHAC worked with the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and the Tufts Health Plan Foundation on a report “How Innovative Community Responses to COVID-19 Support Healthy Aging.” The report is a snapshot of how local partners came together and made adjustments that kept older adults safe and healthy. It also includes external resources and discussion questions that can be used by any community or organization.
- MHAC worked early in the pandemic with local sewing and quilting clubs to make and distribute more than 500 masks to home care workers, meals on wheels drivers and local community-based organizations like the Latino Health Insurance Program.
- MHAC partnered with the Registry of Motor Vehicles, the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and Mass Home Care on having staff from Aging Service Access Points available for older adults renewing their license to obtain useful information on supports and services. The “Senior Days” program set aside certain days and hours only for older adults to conduct business at local RMV sites and also connected with 1,700 older adults to provide resources and guidance on food access and available support.
- Partnered with EOEA and WalkBoston on creating an “Age Friendly Winter Spaces” Guide to help communities promote physical activity, safety and social connection during the winter and pandemic.
- MHAC advocated with many others that special shopping hours for older adults at grocery stores and pharmacies become a statewide program. The Baker Administration made it a directive.
- MHAC served – and continues to serve – on the Task Force to End Loneliness and Build Community. Led by AARP Massachusetts and UMass-Boston, the group released a report following a series of virtual listening sessions that features local examples of how communities are working to address isolation and loneliness. MHAC serves on subcommittees focused on intergenerational activities and technology.
- Several communities joined the age-friendly movement via a designation by AARP, which included Brockton, Fall River and Belchertown.
- MHAC received support from the Healthy Aging Fund to pilot its Healthy Aging for All Guide – a publicly available resource for helping communities embed access, equity and inclusion in age and dementia friendly efforts.
- MHAC serves on several workgroups focused on digital equity and hosted a well-attended webinar with the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and the FutureLab on Mobility at Babson College.
- Curated and disseminated resources, news and information relative to older adults and healthy aging and created a COVID-19 resource webpage.
- Worked with WalkBoston to promote age-friendly walking policies and infrastructure improvements.
- Promoted a range of grant opportunities, including multiple rounds of Shared Streets and Spaces, which now offers bonus points for proposals that include older adults.
- Countless phone calls and Zoom meetings to support and advise communities in how to continue age-friendliness during the pandemic.
- Hosted a webinar – A Conversation on Healthy Aging – with Terry Fulmer of the John A. Hartford Foundation and Chris Koller of the Milbank Memorial Fund along with leaders in four age-friendly communities in Massachusetts: Berkshires, Boston, New Bedford, and Springfield.
We look forward to working with all partners in our network in the New Year.