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Choices for Living, Choices for Care

My father recently passed away. He enjoyed good health for most of his life. In fact, I never remember my father being sick. But for the last three years, he struggled with a complicated chronic disease. I learned a lot about life from watching my father struggle in his last years. I learned that even the love and support of two daughters and four sons who were both emotionally and geographically close, did not equip us to confront the challenges that faced my father. We struggled with complex medical decisions involving multiple doctors for multiple diseases that were at times independent and at times interrelated. My father struggled with depression caused by the loss of his wife of forty-seven years, and by the impact of medications that were intended to help the body but certainly affected his mental outlook and emotional state. As a family we experienced a health care system of outstanding doctors, nurses, and care providers. These professionals at the Fletcher Allen Medical Center, Home Instead, and VNA did an amazing job assisting my dad and our family. My father would often say, Its not easy getting old. I understood what he meant. He was used to being in charge, as a father of a big family and as a colonel in the National Guard and in charge of his own body. Being dependent on others for doctor visits, for transportation, for his health, and for medications all involved loss of independence. Because of my personal experience as a son whose father faced the challenges of aging, I asked the Governor to chair his new Commission on Healthy Aging in 2005. This fall, the Governor asked me to travel our state and share our work on the Commission, and listen to what Vermonters have on their minds. I visited nine senior centers and three diners with the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living. I met with many elderly Vermonters, and received some clear messages to bring back to Governor Douglas: Share the work of the Governors Commission on Healthy Aging
Seniors encouraged us to do more to get out the word about the Commissions work about the creation of the new Center for Aging at UVM, our Falls-Prevention Initiative, Older Workforce Initiative, and so on. I also learned that area agencies on aging and senior centers have developed knowledge and expertise theyre eager to share with the Commission. We will work on better ways to communicate. A confirmation of the Governors Affordability Agenda
At every stop, I heard that affordability is as much an issue for older Vermonters as for working families. They told me to continue efforts to rein in the cost of state government, and to seek relief from high income and property taxes, heating and transportation fuel costs and taxes on a broad range of goods and services. Affordable, accessible housing with supportive services
Aging in place is an important policy goal, but in order to achieve that goal, housing options for seniors must include support services. However, many parts of our state lack sufficient resources to make this successful. Some would like to move out of their homes and into multifamily housing with shared dining and common social space. I intend to draw together lenders, homebuilders and members of the Governors team to find innovative and affordable ways to address this need. Transportation
Seniors need more transportation options to access both medical and non-medical services. Healthy aging depends on staying active and engaged in ones community and transportation is a critical part of ensuring that seniors can continue to contribute their wisdom and time. Increased fuel costs as also a major concern of our seniors. Incentives and accommodations to retain older workers
The state of Vermont as an employer should lead the way in showing other employers that older workers are needed, and should provide incentives to retain older workers. As a state, we must also continue to look for ways to support and encourage more people to work longer. Mental health services for older Vermonters
The state should support federal legislative efforts to expand coverage of and access to mental health services under the Medicare system. Mental health services for older Vermonters have seriously declined over the years. Depression and anxiety need not be a part of aging. Support for Senior Centers and senior meal sites
Senior Centers and meal sites are a critical part of the system that promotes and supports healthy aging. Many Senior Centers and meals sites also provide home delivered meals; I know from helping my wife, who is a regular meals on wheels volunteer, how important those meals and visits are. Funding these services is a concern we should examine. Direct care workers need increased training and education
Our long-term care system is built on services provided by direct care workers; however there is no funding nor mechanism to ensure that these workers receive the training and on-going education needed to support elders in their homes. Suggestions also include increasing wages and benefits for care providers. My father was blessed with a long and rich life. I hope that through the work of the Healthy Aging Commission, we can improve the quality of life for older Vermonters like my father, who face challenges in their final years.

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