Opinion: Having My Say -- How your future might look

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I'd like to share with you a story of our future. AAHSA recently completed our second scenario-planning exercise. It is designed to help us see what the next 10 years might hold for our field. The exercise will help us not to predict the future, not just to prepare for it, but to create it.

In 2002, we identified technology and financing as the two greatest uncertainties facing our field, and both are unfolding before us. Technology is revolutionizing our lives. And our country's long-term care financing system is unsustainable.
We confronted these uncertainties. We established our Center for Aging Services Technologies, or CAST, to unleash technology's potential to transform the aging experience. We convened a blue-ribbon panel to devise a new system for financing aging services. The product of their work is a social insurance model that will empower individuals, encourage personal responsibility and give consumers resources to pay for the services they need.
This year's scenario plan, entitled "The Long and Winding Road" after the Beatles song, identified two very different uncertainties: expanding consumer expectations and the availability of talented people.
The plan envisions revolutionary consumers who will insist on highly specialized services, on their own terms, in the place they call home. It also anticipates increasingly tight talent availability, potentially making it that much more difficult for us to meet these new needs and wants.
Consumer-directed care
What does the story of the future look like? In 10 years, Quality First will have transformed into enduring excellence. Quality will be an automatic public expectation. The revolutionary, discerning consumer will have created two kinds of providers – the excellent and the nonexistent.
In 10 years, all of our services will be consumer-centric, not provider-centric. We will have learned from hospice about consumer-directed care and teamwork. With our financing plan in place, resources will be available to pay for these consumer-centric services and support personal caregivers.
In 10 years, the operative provider categories will be "communities." The old labels will fade as sure as the rest homes, old men's and old women's homes, and homes for incurables faded with quaint obsolescence. Some of you will be the local orchestrators of Centers for Supportive Independence. These networks will knit essential services and knowledge. Together, through technology and linkages with retail stores, banks, tech companies, hospitals and professionals, you will provide a seamless continuum of health, social and consumer services.
In 10 years, our physical structures will have embedded technologies, health promotion centers, and sanctuaries and gardens for reflection and artistic expression. And not just for people of means. These commonplace amenities will be available to all.
In 10 years, the people we work with will include a preponderance of second- and third-career professionals.
Better retention strategies
In 10 years, retention of people of talent will mark the great among us. We will offer them housing on our community campuses. We'll have connections with local universities where they can acquire competencies and degrees. We will offer childcare conducted as part of our well-established adult day services. Intergenerational programs will be the norm. And we'll give our people of talent a living wage and benefits.
In 10 years, the problems that seem difficult or elusive today will be faded memories. Bedsores will be almost unheard of. Diabetes will be cured. Alzheimer's treatments will include chemical interventions that stop it in its tracks. Depression will be the new "senility." We'll find many forms of it. In fact, mental illness will finally get its due. Your specialty programs will respond to complicated and complex mental diseases.
Yes ... that's the story of our future in a decade. Impossible, you say? I say this is possible because it requires transformation. And that transformation is already occurring.
For decades, we've created community and then harnessed the power of that community to drive innovation and fulfill our missions. This is the secret of our success.
Forty-five years ago, our AAHSA community formed because 99 men and women wanted to transform how people grow old in our country. Our ancestors were not satisfied with the status quo. And neither are we. Because our future is our past.
History teaches hope
I know there are days when you despair. I recently heard from a member about a survey and certification problem. He said he didn't "know how much longer it will be until we have to fold our tents."
Another leader from the Gulf States is battling bureaucracies just to move a low-income housing community from a hurricane-endangered zone to a safer one. He asked me, "Why must this be so difficult?"
Let me share with you some sage words from Robert E. Lee. He offered them to a friend in 1870, a time when our country was going through the enormous difficulties of Reconstruction from the miseries of war. Many of your organizations were founded to meet the needs of those impacted by war. Lee wrote:
"The truth is this: The march of Providence is so slow and our desires so impatient; the work of progress is so immense and our means of aiding it so feeble; the life of humanity is so long, that of the individual so brief, that we often see only the ebb of the advancing wave and are thus discouraged. It is history that teaches us to hope."
Service models will come and go, politics will always be temporal, leaders will change. Congress will inevitably hold hearings on who knew what and when did they know. But let us never forget: The secret of our success will be the understanding and orchestration of the power of community. Where justice and compassion are the operative values, where choice and autonomy of spirit are the goals of what we do. Where innovation is peripheral and transformation is the operative daily dynamic. The power of community is our story – past, present and future. n
(Excerpted from a speech originally given to AAHSA members.)

Larry Minnix is president and CEO of the American Association of Homes & Services for the Aging.
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