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Dr. Eleanor Barbera
Dr. Eleanor Barbera

Amy Gotwals, the Chief of Public Policy and External Affairs at the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, kicked off the 28th Annual Aging Conference in New York City last week, held at the New York Academy of Medicine and filled with attendees providing community-based care for elders. Her rousing keynote outlined the vast care demands of the growing wave of elders and the importance of building healthcare partnerships.

Some of Gotwals' statistics were startling despite knowledge of the impending “silver tsunami.” Some areas of the country are projected to see an increase in Alzheimer's diagnoses of 50% to 80% by 2025. Family caregivers between 65 and 74 years old provide more than 30 hours of care per week; for those 75 and older, it's more than 34 hours each week.

Statistics such as these point to ways in which long-term care organizations can position themselves to be relevant far into the future by offering, for instance, memory or respite care.

Gotwals reported that local Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), of which there are 622 across the country, are increasingly contracting with healthcare organizations to provide services such as care transitions, nutritional services, home evaluations and evidence-based self-management for chronic diseases.

In one example, San Francisco's Institute on Aging (IOA) partnered with a nonprofit, community-based housing agency and contracted with the Health Plan of San Mateo County to provide care management services that reduced monthly spending per member by nearly 50%.

While local organizations may not be as seasoned in business promotion, they're experts in the needs of the local community and their established presence in the neighborhood can be a boon to long-term care organizations seeking to create new partnerships.

ElderTech

After hearing Gotwals' opening remarks, I chose a breakout session on technology and design presented by Tom Kamber, Ph.D., founder and director of Older Adults Technology Services (OATS). His is a national organization that provides technology-based senior centers and collaborates with a wide range of institutions to address the tech needs of elders. Some of the projects include a partnership with Maimonides Hospital to install laptops in the homes of frail older adults and one with AARP to offer laptop training to low-income, socially isolated elders. The goal of OATS, which began in 2004, is to “empower adults to live successful, independent, more connected lives.”

OATS has worked with nursing homes to design computer labs. Kamber noted in his talk the importance of offering functional, modern equipment in a pleasant environment with ongoing training and support rather than refurbished equipment in a unwelcoming location without the assistance needed to make use of the opportunity to connect with the world outside the long-term care setting.

Our post-session discussion focused on ways to use tech to engage rehab residents and maintain their connection to the healthcare network following discharge. There was so much to say about this that we agreed to continue our conversation at a later date. I'll report back on that later.

Vendors of note

There were a multitude of vendors and sponsors present, including AARP, local aging services providers, food service companies and insurers. Also present were the Lighthouse Guild and the Alzheimer's Association, which is a good reminder for those in long-term care that there are robust community resources for elders with vision or memory loss as well as support for those with other chronic illnesses.

Facilities can work with organizations such as these to provide educational services for residents. A resident receiving rehab would be well served to learn more about a new diagnosis of Parkinson's, for example, through materials or support provided by a local representative from the Parkinson's Foundation while they are in-house and then be able to continue the connection with the Parkinson's Foundation upon discharge. This, in turn, is likely to generate referrals from local associations familiar with the long-term care facility from their joint efforts.

The takeaway

My overall impression of the conference was that there are a huge number of dedicated and knowledgeable service providers out there — mostly women addressing pressing societal concerns in an unstable funding environment — seeking to collaborate with local healthcare providers in ways that benefit the residents of the communities in which they're embedded. Long-term care providers can connect with community-based organizations to provide innovative, thoughtful services that enhance their offerings, heighten their visibility in their neighborhoods and reduce costs per member for those working in a capitated system.

Please join me for a free webinar this Thursday at 3:30 p.m. ET (12:30 p.m. PT) on How to Dramatically Boost Staff Performance Using Psychological Techniques, sponsored by SmartLinx.

Eleanor Feldman Barbera, PhD, author of The Savvy Resident's Guide, is an Award of Excellence winner in the Blog Content category of the APEX Awards for Publication Excellence program. She also is the Gold Medalist in the Blog-How To/Tips/Service category of the American Society of Business Publication Editors Midwest Regional competition. A speaker and consultant with over 20 years of experience as a psychologist in long-term care, she maintains her own award-winning website at MyBetterNursingHome.com.

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