Using the MA Healthy Aging Data Report to Understand, Engage and Act

By Elizabeth Costello, JSI; Project Manager, www.mahealthyagingcollaborative.org

Have you explored the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Data Report or downloaded your city or town’s Community Profile? How are you using the data report to improve the health of older adults in your community? Learn how members of the Healthy Aging Collaborative are taking action in their communities.
data report
In January 2014, the Tufts Health Plan Foundation released the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Data Report, which was created by researchers at the Gerontology Institute at UMass Boston. This report includes Community Profiles for 351 cities and towns in Massachusetts as well as the 16 neighborhoods of Boston. The profiles detail individual town data alongside state averages for nearly 100 healthy aging indicators to help communities compare how they are doing relative to the rest of the state and identify areas of focus for health promotion efforts among older adults.

The data report received a lot of initial exposure thanks to an article in the Boston Globe and a presentation at the 2014 Healthy Aging Forum in January. Since its release, more than 4,000 people have viewed the Community Profiles page on this website. Seven months later, we followed up with some members of the Healthy Aging Collaborative to learn how they are using the data report to:

  1. Understand. Download your Community Profile and educate yourself and others in the community about strengths, challenges, and areas for improvements.
  2. Engage. Bring stakeholders and community members together to start a conversation about what the data mean and what can be done to address challenges.
  3. Act. Use the data to prioritize needs, potential interventions, and allocation of resources. Become a member of the Massachusetts Healthy Aging Collaborative online community. Stay connected to what is happening in the state. Share ideas and best practices.
1. Understand: Laurie Murphy, Elder Services of the Worcester Area

Laurie Murphy is the Regional Coordinator of the Healthy Living Center of Excellence for the Central Region, and is located at the Elder Services of the Worcester Area. During evidence-based healthy aging workshops in the community, Murphy highlights Worcester’s chronic condition indicators. She says most of the workshop participants have been surprised to learn that Worcester is one of the six communities that scored below state averages on multiple healthy aging indicators. Murphy notes that we all like to believe that we are healthier than we are, but looking at the data shows the need for more evidence-based programs like “My Life, My Health” (The Stanford chronic disease self-management education program) in the community. Murphy also shared her experiences using the data report in a July 2014 Conversation Topic on the Connect section of this website.

2. Engage: Michael Schade, Watertown Community Foundation

Michael Schade is Executive Director of the Watertown Community Foundation, which is a nonprofit public foundation that works to build and sustain a vibrant, close-knit community in Watertown. In May 2014, the Watertown Community Foundation, along with two other local nonprofits, convened its own Healthy Aging Forum to share Watertown’s Community Profile and engage stakeholders and community residents to take action. Fifty five people attended the event, including a state representative, three town councilors, representatives from Mt. Auburn Hospital, local senior agencies and service providers, and community residents. Ruth Palombo from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation spoke about the data report.

During the question and answer session, the director of Watertown’s Recreation Department, Peter Centola, noted that the recreation program is primarily geared towards youth. He publicly voiced that the department needed to make changes to offer programs that would be more appealing to older adults. This is just one example of a new idea for action that stemmed from convening people together to start a conversation about what the data mean in their community. The Watertown Community Foundation will host three more Healthy Aging Forums in the coming year, and Centola has joined in planning meetings to continue the conversation about how Watertown’s recreation department can better meet the needs of older adults.

3. Act: Sandy Johnson, Randolph Council on Aging

Sandy Johnson, a grant writer for the Randolph Council on Aging (COA), learned about the data report at the January Healthy Aging Forum. She was surprised by the high rates of hypertension among older adults in Randolph — 82 percent of older adults have hypertension, compared to 77 percent across the state.

Johnson quickly took action and used the data from Randolph’s Community Profile to successfully apply for a grant for a heart health program through her local Community Health Network Area (CHNA) – the Blue Hills Community Health Alliance. Beginning in September, the Randolph COA will offer a series of four heart healthy lunches and educational talks about hypertension at four locations across the community, including the Randolph Senior Center, public and private senior housing, and a Hebrew SeniorLife facility. The COA will also offer four stress reduction workshops and chronic disease self-management education (CDSME) workshops. All of these programs are highlighted in a recent article in the Randolph Herald.

Programs addressing hypertension also have the potential to impact other chronic diseases, including diabetes and heart disease, so the Randolph COA’s actions may also affect the more than 59 percent of older adults in Randolph with four or more chronic conditions.

How Will YOU Take Action?

Murphy, Schade, and Johnson are just a few of the healthy aging professionals across the state who are using the data report to enhance the health, social engagement, and independence of older adults in their communities. How can you learn from them and others? Here are some ideas for next steps:

Understand

  • Share your city or town’s Community Profile with other colleagues and stakeholders with whom you work as well as community members you serve.
  • Bring printed copies to in-person events or share your Community Profile via email.
  • Compare the data to other reports that may already exist in your community or region.
  • Identify any available community needs assessment reports that you can use to better understand your community and the older adults who live there, such as the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) Area Plan on Aging 2014-2017. Communities might also have community benefits reports available from the Attorney General’s Office.
  • A local health department may have conducted a needs assessment which is required for their accreditation process. Your local Community Health Network Area (CHNA) may have done a needs assessment as part of a health improvement planning process.
  • Find out about all the resources that are available to you to better understand the stories behind the data. Use these resources and build on the great work already done in your community. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel.

 Engage

  • Organize an event in your community to bring residents and stakeholders together to learn more about the data and identify opportunities for action.
  • Make sure you invite older adults from the community to participate.
  • Identify non-traditional partners or stakeholders – people that you may not usually work with – to get their perspective.
  • Create a member profile on the Collaborative website and tell us how you are using the data report in this Conversation Topic.
  • Share your successes and challenges with members of the Collaborative’s online community and other colleagues in your community and across the state. This online community is a learning community. Communicate with others and learn from your colleagues.
  • Pose questions, propose creative ideas and combat ageism as we all work together to make Massachusetts a model for healthy aging.

 Act

  • Use data from the Community Profiles to demonstrate need in your next funding application, or in planning or advocacy efforts.
  • Contact your local representative and urge him or her to take action on making changes in your community.
  • Continue working with community residents and stakeholders to follow up on opportunities for action and keep the conversation going.
  • Be creative. Work in partnership with others. Focus on community needs and think broadly about what would maximize your impact in your community. What would change systems in your community and impact the largest number of people? How can your work benefit the most vulnerable in your community?
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