Opportunities For Seniors
Our community and state were built by the sweat and labor of our older neighbors. I believe that we must honor that service by ensuring that our older neighbors enjoy the dignity, security, community, and independence that they deserve. We need to invest in our generational promise of care and compassion by having programs and places that offer this to our parents, grandparents, and older friends and neighbors.
aHistory of the Milwaukee County Department on Aging
Milwaukee County Government created the Department on Aging in 1991 to make sure seniors had both services and opportunities to serve. The mission of the Department on Aging is to affirm the dignity and value of older adults of Milwaukee County by supporting their choices for living in and giving to the community. The Department on Aging was created as a single point of access to services for people 60 years and older –it has three main responsibilities. Refer to page 8 of this document for a 2012 organization chart of the department.
The first is to act as the federally designated Area Agency on Aging for Milwaukee County. The department also serves as the Aging Unit under WI Statute 46.82. As the Area Agency on Aging, the department receives money from the Older American’s Act and from State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of Public Health, Bureau of Aging and Disability Resources to provide a wide array of community services designed to assist older people to remain in and take part in their communities. These services/programs are open to all persons aged 60 and over and have no fees attached to them, although contributions are provided by customers and community members to support programs and services.
Services and programs include:
- The Senior Meal Program that operates 21 congregate meal sites open daily for lunch and socialization.
- Home delivered meals for those who are homebound and cannot get to a congregate meal site. This service is more than just a meal. It is also a wellness check and socialization as oftentimes, the meal delivery driver is the only person the customer will see during the week.
- Transportation to medical appointments, meal sites, and shopping trips for residents of senior housing.
- Neighborhood volunteer opportunities, late life counseling, and recreational activities at neighborhood senior centers.
- Two other important services available are legal assistance through the SeniorLaw program and family caregiver assistance.
- Through the support of Milwaukee County, the department owns and operates five state-of-the-art senior centers with fitness centers, computer labs, and other amenities.
The second major responsibility of the department is to operate an Aging Resource Center. The Aging Resource Center consists of:
- A call center offering information and assistance to any caller about all services available to older adults in the community.
- Options counseling about long-term care services available to seniors, access and enrollment in long-term care programs, and wellness or prevention services.
- Elder abuse and adult protective services for vulnerable older adults.
The services of the Aging Resource Center are free and available to all residents 60 and over and their families. The Aging Resource Center also has outreach staff available to make community presentations.
The final responsibility of the department is to advocate for the needs of citizens age 60 and over. This work is sanctioned to be overseen by a 16-member Commission on Aging made up of volunteer citizens, most of whom are over the age of 60. Commissioners are appointed by the County Executive and confirmed by the County Board.
The Commission on Aging offers opportunities for residents to become involved through its various standing committees and councils.
Brief Overview of the Aging Population
In a world, nation, state, and county where the population of people 60 years and older continues to rapidly rise and government funding remains static, it is essential that innovative, cost-effective and sustainable community-based services and programs are available for older populations. Milwaukee County has older adults from 60 to over 100 years who as they age have changing and growing needs and it is our responsibility to be in a position to anticipate and initiate the latest developments in the field. The Department on Aging focuses on people 60 years plus because this is the aging requirement for use of Older American Act funds
According to the U.S. Census, American Community Survey, 2013-2017 Estimates, we have 173,173 people 60 years plus living in Milwaukee County and of that total over 35% live alone. Although living alone is not synonymous with social isolation and loneliness, much of the research that exists, demonstrations social isolation and loneliness can lead to higher risks for mental and physical health conditions that decrease quality of life.
People who find themselves unexpectedly alone due to the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, retirement, loss of mobility, and lack of transportation are at particular risk. Conversely, people who engage in meaningful, productive activities with others tend to live longer, boost their mood, and have a sense of purpose. These activities seem to help maintain their well-being and may improve their cognitive function, studies show. National Institute on Aging, April 23, 2019
That is why it is important to have a Department on Aging that is vibrant and promotes health and wellness and the leadership of people who are aging. This would include not only programs that promote independence and opportunities to contribute through paid employment and volunteerism, but also works to educate and inform people about issues that impact them most. There is a great need for a structure that allows opportunities for residents who represent Milwaukee County’s older adult population so that they have a real voice in the programs and services that work to meet their desires and needs …and we as leaders should listen and value that input.
Partnerships and Collaborations
Food insecurity, unemployment, accessible transportation, mental health, chronic disease, family caregiver supports, paid caregiver needs, social isolation, disabilities, Alzheimer’s and dementia, loneliness, increased health care costs, physical health and wellness, and accessible, independent, and safe housing are some of the concerns that the Department on Aging supports through their programs and services. Working in partnership with local, state, and national partners is important to provide services that have been tried and proven and best meet the needs of Milwaukee County’s aging populations. There is a wealth of research available that supports evidenced-based prevention programs and how creative partnerships can work to address the listed concerns while at the same time significantly reduce the taxpayer burden of covering the costs services and programs.
A well-constructed county system of senior services should involve partnerships with institutions of higher learning, inter/intra government agencies, health care systems, community-based organizations, and private companies/businesses—those unusual connections—that are looking to leverage resources and invest in the community. Through these types of relationships, we can be strategic, imaginative, practical, and economical with limited resources to maintain and establish robust programs and services. With the rapidly growing aging population and changing times, the ultimate goal should be to create and provide appealing programs and services in ways that under “traditional circumstances”, older adults would not use.
Major Department Issues to Address
Due to the growing number of adults who are aging and interruption of essential aging services and programs over the past three years, there are key concerns that should be addressed simultaneously:
- Appoint an executive director based on Wisconsin State Statute 46.82(5)(a)2. that has recognized and demonstrated interest in and knowledge of problems of older individuals, with due regard to training, experience, executive and administrative ability and general qualification and fitness for the performance of his or her duties. The department has gone since 2015 without stable, compassionate, knowledgeable and strategic leadership which is demonstrated in its ability to retain employees and the loss of vigor within the community.
- The Department on Aging in its current state has a long list of people waiting to be assessed for long-term care eligibility. This is due to a critical mass of unfilled positions within the department’s Aging Resource Center. There should be a swift effort to ensure that those positions are filled with qualified and passionate employees so that seniors in need and deemed eligible are enrolled Family Care and IRIS –and can quickly move to the next step and begin receiving the services and resources that will help them stay in the community and live with dignity and quality. With 173, 000 –60 plus older adults and 15% of this population living in poverty –the time is now. It is crucial that these positions are filled and acclimatized immediately.
- Evaluate all community-based service contracts to ensure that a wide variety of agencies across the county receive the opportunity to provide aging programs and services through contracts awards to eliminate the possibility of ever having interruptions in program and service provision. This would require training to guarantee agencies:
- Understand the requirements and specifications of program contracts.
- Have the capability to respond to RFPs and write good contract proposals.
- Can demonstrate the ability to implement and maintain quality services and programs under contract.
- In just a few short years, due to the loss of many experienced, passionate, and quality employees, considerable intellectual capital and institutional knowledge within the department has been lost. This in itself has jeopardized the department’s benefit to translate the wisdom and commitment of seasoned employees into reusable and sustained actions and has been destructive to the community. Therefore, it is crucial to assess the abilities and objectivity of current employees in addition to hiring and retaining new employees who are mission-driven, creative, knowledgeable about Milwaukee’s aging population and government structure, and dedicated to supporting the needs of Milwaukee County older adults.
- The Older Americans Act of 1965 requires the aging network to be effective advocates. This includes reviewing and having a say on all state policies affecting older adults in addition to that the Milwaukee County Department on Aging is to act as an advocate along with the community to monitor, evaluate and comment on all community-level policies affecting seniors. It is unarguable that a new Milwaukee County Executive and Department on Aging leadership identify, appoint, and confirm knowledgeable, passionate and committed community members to the Commission on Aging and other committees or councils that impact policy and programs.
A Need for Suitable Housing
A 2019 survey of Wauwatosa seniors shows they desire to stay in their homes as long as possible. For that to happen, they need additional resources in order to modify their homes to make them safe. The Milwaukee County Department on Aging can no longer use the excuse “we’re out of money.” They need to take a more aggressive approach in applying for grants, providing services, and identifying partners who can help our neighbors.
As Milwaukee County Executive, I will work to enhance the Department on Aging so they can fulfill the requests of our seniors in an efficient manner, build more affordable housing, and fight for fair revenue from the state so we are not so reliant on property taxes.
Rising Costs of Prescription Drugs
Additionally, the monopolistic practices and rigging-of-the-game by Pharma lawyers, lobbyists, and marketers has made it so vital drugs: from insulin, to Naloxone to combat opioid overdose, to Sovaldi for Hepatitis C (the infamous “$1,000 per pill” drug); are out of reach to many who need them.
Milwaukee County alone cannot solve this program. However, they can be a major ally in the effort and attempt to challenge excessive prices. Three proposals are as follows:
Suing Pharma over price gouging
While numerous Wisconsin counties have launched lawsuits against Pharmaceutical manufacturers who have, they believe, contributed to the opioid addiction crisis, many counties in the US (especially in New York State) have also brought lawsuits on prescription price practices. Their lawsuits are aimed at generic prescription drug manufacturers alleging “the companies improperly inflated their prices for prescription drugs covered under the counties’ health insurance program, divided markets among themselves, and fixed bids”. Unlike Milwaukee, these counties purchase drugs directly for employees instead of through an insurer. However, it is likely that between the foster care system, Behavioral Health Division and the House of Corrections, Milwaukee County does directly purchase prescriptions, and looking into the practices of the manufacturer’s that provide them makes sense, based on these entities’ actions in states like New York.
Bulk Negotiation Agreement
As is done in multiple California counties, Milwaukee County could explore the opportunity to bulk purchase prescription drugs together with other counties and with the State of Wisconsin’s numerous health programs. In California, Governor Newsom has transitioned the state away from relying on private managed care plans purchasing prescriptions to partnering with counties to negotiate the best deal for taxpayers. Through the Milwaukee County employee self-insured health plan, House of Corrections, Behavioral Health Division, and exploring partnerships with area businesses, local governments, hospitals and the State of Wisconsin, opportunities could exist to mirror this proposal.
Currently, municipalities across the nation are actively working to help employees and their families access more affordable prescriptions through importation mail-order programs such as offered by “CanRx” from countries like Canada. Municipalities waive copays for employee health plans that order certain high cost prescriptions from companies like CanRx. The Federal Government is critical of this action, but has not stopped it, and presents one of the most high-profile means of showing Milwaukee County’s support for challenging the broken pharmaceutical pricing system in America today.
As County Executive, I will dedicate myself and my administration to doing right by Milwaukee County’s senior population. The Milwaukee County Department on Aging will be revived and enhanced as a leader and model for aging services and programs across the state and country. Together we will create a county where the value of older adults is demonstrated through, honest and ethical leadership, combating the systemic racism that continues to plague aging services and access in Milwaukee County, effective listening, encouraging community engagement, celebrating our employee’s contributions, championing advocacy, promoting health equity, and responding to the changing needs of the community through the implementation of innovative, practical and sustainable programs and services that meet the needs of seniors across the aging lifespan.