Conference for the ages develops personal touch

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James M. Berklan
James M. Berklan

When President Obama took the podium on the morning of  July 13, he thrust aging and long-term care into a reinvigorated spotlight. Ten years earlier, his predecessor hadn't attended the White House Conference on Aging, yet alone address the gathering.

Obama's predecessor, however, also didn't drop 403 pages of new regulatory language on long-term care providers.

Some very early reviews claimed that conscientious providers were already practicing much of what was being prescribed. It was a lot more than I was expecting out of this White House Conference on Aging. With a shortened schedule and little time to prepare for it, I joined the legions expecting another hot-air boondoggle.

What we missed, however, was not just potential changes in content, but also format. Instead of calling the delegates to Washington to roll up sleeves, earnestly talk over one another for a few days and then go home to wait for a report to be sent to them, organizers brought the conference into the modern era. Rather than emulate the Continental Congress meetings of the late 1700s, they went on the road and held more than 600 listening sessions and satellite preparatory meetings of substance. 

This conference also took on a more upbeat tone in many ways. Rather than taking the traditional long view at “poverty programs for the sick, poor and those alone” (as one wonk put it), this gathering seemed to focus more on current and future possibilities. This is what got banking, transportation and other execs involved.

“It was the idea that all of us will live much longer, and with some needs, and beginning to see that in a positive way,” offered Bruce Chernof, M.D., CEO of The SCAN Foundation and chairman of Congress' 2013 Long-Term Care Commission. 

This WHCOA was good for catching the eye of both caregivers and the public — while also being hopeful and somewhat cheery. Now, that's progress!

It took the program to the people — looking to engage in ways they prefer to communicate. This meant, yes, Facebook, Twitter and other “real-time” methods of communication.

One can only hope that 10 years from now when the next WHCOA is held, there will be even more direct give-and-take between the government, and people and providers. 

By then, someone also might be done fully digesting those 403 pages of new regulatory ruminations.