A Good Day at the White House—#AGSProud

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Heading into the East Room of the White House.

The White House Conference on Aging (WHCOA) was this week. It’s a once-in-a-decade gathering of people who are passionate about older Americans. The next time this conference occurs, I’ll be 66 and my siblings will be in their 60s with one turning the corner to 70. With a little luck and some healthy choices, we’ll be active and engaged with our communities well into our golden years.

One thing that is clear from the 2015 conference is that, as a country, we still have a lot of hard work to do if our communities are going to be ready for me and my siblings. That said, I was proud to represent geriatrics health professionals at the WHCOA and it gave me hope that the type of future we envision for older adults could be a reality (especially on the cusp of some momentous news today from the U.S. Senate—you’ll just have to keep reading to find out more!).

WHCOAPresObama

President Obama giving his remarks.

First, the things that made me proud…

Falls Prevention Takes Center Stage at the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention: In 2001, the American Geriatrics Society (together with the British Geriatrics Society and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons) released our first Guideline for the Prevention of Falls in Older Persons, with an updated guideline issued in 2010. This was seminal work, and not just for the AGS. In fact, our most recent guideline informed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) work on creating the Stopping Elderly Accidents, Deaths, & Injuries (STEADI) initiative that was announced at the WHCOA. STEADI provides educational tools to healthcare professionals that can help them identify individuals at risk for falls, understand how to modify certain risks that they are likely to find, and learn how to implement effective options for preventing falls altogether. The CDC has been working with Epic Systems Corporation (an electronic health record technology provider) and EPIC will be rolling out a clinical support tool for falls assessment. This resource will make it easier for ALL healthcare providers to screen for falls, intervene to reduce risk, and provide follow-up care. AGS members are leading the STRIDE study that is testing a multifactorial fall injury prevention strategy that is being co-funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Institute (PCORI) and the National Institute on Aging (NIA). I’m proud of AGS and our members—we built the foundation for STEADI and, looking towards the WHCOA in 2025, I expect that we will have progressed even further in our understanding of how to prevent older adult falls.

Medicare & Geriatrics Health Professions Funding: President Obama had some good news for geriatrics health professionals, as well—noting that we are working to implement Medicare payment models that support the quality rather than the quantity of care. AGS has been at the forefront of efforts that will benefit beneficiaries by ensuring that clinicians are supported to provide care coordination, care transitions, and advance care planning. We continue to advocate for payment models that support geriatrics health professionals in doing what they love to do: maximize the function and quality of life of the older adults they serve. Look for more news from us on the recently released 2016 proposed physician fee schedule rule in the coming weeks.

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Multiple Chronic Conditions and You

Nancy Lundebjerg casual

I have multiple chronic conditions (MCCs). There—I’ve said it: in my mid-50s, I already have MCCs. Fortunately, nothing is life-threatening, but I do need to keep track of my arthritic toe, my eyesight, and a bit of acid reflux. My friends and I also talk about our weak bladders—likely the precursor to being incontinent later in life, but for now we are managing with the philosophy (in my case, after speaking with my gynecologist): “If there’s a bathroom, we should use it because we never know when we’ll spot another one!”

You’re probably wondering why I’m sharing all of this on the Health in Aging blog. After all, at my age I don’t yet qualify as an older adult. But thinking about all of your conditions any time you get a new diagnosis, try a new vitamin, or are prescribed a new medicine is important at any age. It’s particularly important as you get older, and the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) and the Health in Aging Foundation have tools you can use to create care plans with your providers that take into account all of your conditions and your preferences.

So just what is a chronic condition? Simply put, it’s a physical or mental condition that lasts a year or more and requires ongoing medical attention and/or limits what you can do on a daily basis. At one point, my arthritic left toe was limiting how far I could walk, which, for a New Yorker, had a big impact on my quality of life. Even now, post-surgery, the toe requires an orthotic and monitoring by my doctor. Cute little shoes are basically not an option!

MCC Tools for You
According to Medicare data, more than two-thirds of beneficiaries have 3 or more chronic conditions. If you—or someone you care for—has MCCs, the AGS Health in Aging Foundation has tools that can guide you as you work with clinicians to plan a course of care that takes into account your goals and also helps to prevent having a bad outcome. I always start with our A-Z chapters, as these provide a general overview of a topic and serve as a road map to AGS Health in Aging Foundation resources and those from other organizations. Our chapter on Managing Multiple Health Problems is based on a piece that we created to assist health professionals who are caring for older adults. You can also find other tools, including advice from Drs. Cythia Boyd and Matt McNabney.

Tools for Your Clinicians
The tools and resources that we provide on HealthinAging.org are drawn from the health professional resources of the AGS. In 2012, AGS developed “Guiding Principles for the Care of Older Adults with Multimorbidity: A Stepwise Approach for Clinicians,” which provides a stepwise approach (or one based on a series of stages or steps) for any clinician who is caring for someone with MCCs. One of our primary goals in creating this document was to help clinicians who do not have training in geriatrics and who are treating patients for one or more of their chronic conditions. This is why, with funding from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), we created and released our MCC Geriatrics Evaluation and Management Strategies (GEMS) app this past May and are currently disseminating it to our specialty physician partners. The MCC GEMS app provides a short overview of the guiding principles for busy clinicians as well as some suggested tools that can be helpful to them in managing their older patients.

I know I need to take an active role in managing my own healthcare. That’s why I look for information from trustworthy sources whenever I have a decision to make. Having worked with leaders in the field of geriatrics and gerontology on creating HealthinAging.org, I also know that the information we provide is based on the best evidence available and that it can help you (or someone you love) make healthcare decisions that are consistent with your goals and preferences.

About the Author
Nancy Lundebjerg is the Chief Executive Officer of the American Geriatrics Society and the AGS Health in Aging Foundation.

Why the Older Americans Act is Important

The Older Americans Act and Me

After they both retired, my parents volunteered with Meals on Wheels, which delivers food to home-bound elders. Programs like Meals on Wheels have been supported through legislation like the Older Americans Act (OAA), a historic bill that was passed in 1965 to help all of us remain independent in our homes and communities as we age, but which has been overdue for reauthorization (the process by which Congress makes changes to laws over time) since 2011.

Independence is something my friends and I think about a lot now that we are in our 50s and 60s, with many of us caring for our own parents, too. We talk about how we can remain independent in our homes for as long as possible—and legislation like the OAA plays an important role in those thought processes.

As CEO of the American Geriatrics Society, I know that two important pillars to remaining independent in our homes as we age are (1) ensuring we have a workforce that is competent to care for us wherever we may reside; and (2) supporting access to home and community-based services. Many of the programs I will likely need when I am older are funded by the OAA. Recently, key legislation has been introduced by U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Patty Murray (D-WA), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to reauthorize the OAA. In so doing, this effort will strengthen support that will address elder abuse, evidence-based disease prevention and health promotion initiatives, effective coordination of services at the federal, state, and local levels, and several other challenges confronting older Americans and their health providers.

What the OAA Supports
In this post, I want to highlight three types of services supported by the OAA that have more than likely impacted you or someone you know: nutritional services, supportive services, and programs to assist family caregivers.

These are services that currently support elders remaining in their communities. They are programs that I—like many of us—will need when I’m older.

  • The nutritional services supported by the OAA—like the Meals on Wheels programs—ensure the health and well-being of older adults by enhancing access to nutritious food at home and in the community. More than 90 percent of older adults receiving home-delivered meals from programs like Meals on Wheels say this support has helped them to remain in their own homes. In fact, Citymeals-on-Wheels, which operates in my native New York, provides 2 million meals to 18,000 older New Yorkers each year. In addition to nutritionally balanced senior meals, staff from Citymeals and volunteers also deliver vital human companionship—an important added benefit for older men and women who get to enjoy regular visits from people they know and can trust.
  • The supportive services authorized by the OAA provide flexible funding to state and local agencies to offer senior transportation programs, information and referral services, case management services, adult day care, chore services, in-home services for frail older adults, and much more. In 2009, for example, this type of support under the OAA helped communities across the country offer nearly 8 million hours of adult day care, some 28 million rides to healthcare professionals’ offices, and upwards of 29 million hours of personal care and homemaker services for older adults in need. It’s especially encouraging to see so many older adults who live alone accessing transportation services: as many of these men and women report, without this important benefit, they might otherwise be homebound.
  • The OAA-funded National Family Caregiver Support Program (NFCSP) helps older adults age in place by promoting family caregiving and reducing reliance on institutionalization. Specifically, the NFCSP provides grants to states and territories, based on their population aged 70 and older, to fund a range of supports that assist family and informal caregivers who help older adults live at home for as long as safely possible. More than 75% of caregivers participating in programs supported by this provision of the OAA say these services have enabled them to provide care longer than would have been possible otherwise, and an astounding 89% of caregivers reported that program services helped them to be better caregivers.

These are but a few of the vital safety net programs supported by the OAA. They’re programs that matter because I’m a caregiver, but also because I know we can all benefit from their sustained support as we grow older. Reauthorizing the OAA is essential to that future reality, and I know that it will take all of us to make that possible moving forward.

So—what can you do?
Well, visiting our Health in Aging Advocacy Center is a great first step. It has lots of easy-to-use resources that can help you get in touch with your Senators and House Representative to make sure that your voice is heard as we look toward a future with an even stronger OAA—one that we helped shape here and now!

 

Celebrating the Medicare #DocFix

Photo credit: David W. Parke II, MD

Photo credit: David W. Parke II, MD

This week, I made a pilgrimage to Washington DC to attend a reception in the White House Rose Garden at the invitation of President Obama. It was a heady moment for this new CEO of the American Geriatrics Society and the Health in Aging Foundation. My 91-year old mother and her friends were quite impressed–going so far as to ask me to put in a good word for older adults. Got that covered, Mom.

Putting aside the excitement of seeing the Rose Garden and shaking President Obama’s hand (I admit shaking a President’s hand is really exciting), why was this moment so important for geriatrics health professionals and the older adults they serve? Congress, in a rare bi-partisan, bicameral moment, had passed The Medicare Access and CHIP Reauthorization Act and President Obama signed it into law April 16, 2015.

I won’t go into all the details of the bill here—nor will I try to explain the Sustainable Growth Rate (SGR), which may be what you heard a lot about in the news related to this legislation. Suffice it to say, this new legislation finally fixes a huge problem for geriatrics health professionals and the older adults they serve.

Geriatrics health professionals are specially trained to care for older adults (learn more about these professionals here; we can even help you find one here). Having benefited from their expertise as a family caregiver, I know first hand how different it is to partner with someone with this kind of training when caring for my loved ones. They always start the care process by considering what matters to older patients and their families as people, and then work back to how they can help you get there.

Geriatrics healthcare professionals are pretty much wholly paid by Medicare, so a looming cut in payment of more than 20% annually is a big deal when you still have practice expenses to pay (that’s what these health professionals faced under the old SGR system). We don’t often talk about the business of medicine, but if you are in private practice you have expenses just like any other business. These include rent, staff (most geriatrics health professionals work in teams), equipment, supplies; malpractice insurance and your own health insurance. Like any other business, a sharp drop in revenue could endanger your ability to provide services. And that, in a nutshell, was the broader threat of the old SGR formula. With a stroke of the President’s pen, that threat is gone.

President Obama addressing reception attendees.

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Making Healthcare Decisions for Me, Part 2

Nancy Lundebjerg casualNancy E. Lundebjerg, MPA
Chief Executive Officer
American Geriatrics Society
Health in Aging Foundation

In my last post, I shared some personal reflections on the importance of completing an advance directive—what the process has taught me about my needs, my wishes, and the type of voice and control I want to have should I ever need someone else to make healthcare decisions on my behalf.

That last point is quite important, and—in honor of today being National Healthcare Decisions Day—I thought I’d walk through some of the questions and considerations that helped drive my own search for a healthcare proxy. These are built on discussions I’ve had with this person—one who knows me well—about the questions, answers, and decisions that are important to me. While these points reflect my own thoughts and perspective, maybe you can use them as a guide for considering what’s important to you—and how you’d want those points acted upon should someone else need to make important health decisions on your behalf.

 Who You Are, Mr./Ms. Healthcare Proxy?

  • You are my advocate and you are most definitely the person who has final say in decisions if I’m unable to make them for myself. Collaborative decision-making in tandem with my doctor is OK—but you know what I would want better than most.
  • You will not let anyone rush you through a conversation—you’ll make sure all your questions are answered.
  • You’ll make sure I’m getting the best care possible—you’ll know who my doctors are and where they trained.
  • You are someone I trust to do whatever needs to be done—and that includes letting me go gently if that is the right decision. And by “right”, I mean your right—others can advise you, but the decision is yours to make based on what we’ve talked about and what you know about my wishes, needs, and expectations.

What You Know about Me

  • You know that quality of life is more important to me than length of life.
  • You know that I, personally, don’t have religious or moral beliefs that are relevant to decisions about life-sustaining treatments. You should make those decisions based solely on my medical condition and my long-term prognosis (the likely course of the disease or condition).
  • You know how I feel about artificial nutrition and hydration. I personally think it’s an OK short-term solution if you are “waiting and seeing” if I’ll recover, but please don’t pursue it for me if I’m in a persistent vegetative state or if scans show no activity in a substantial portion of my brain.
  • You know that I would ask for prognosis, weigh all the facts, make a decision, and then stick to that decision.
  • You know that I firmly believe that there are no wrong decisions.
  • You know that I am not afraid of living with disability nor am I afraid of dying.

What You Understand About My Long-Term Prognosis

  • Get the facts and the prognosis from the doctor(s) overseeing my care.
  • Ask about how I will physically function. Ask if I’ll have trouble with my mental capabilities. If I will, ask what that means in terms of my ability to function.
  • Weigh those answers within the context of what you know about me and make your decisions accordingly.
  • Finally, be sure to make time for yourself—being my (or anyone’s) proxy is not an easy task. I know, I’ve been there and done that. Most of all, know that I am going to be A-OK with whatever decisions you make. I trust you—and that’s what this relationship is all about.