“Successful aging is a future we can look forward to,” John Rother, president and CEO of the National Coalition on Health Care (NCHC), told me recently. “It’s a future where seniors are financially secure, have as good health conditions as possible and are active and engaged in their chosen communities.”
John leads an organization dedicated to bringing key stakeholders together to achieve an affordable, high-value healthcare system. Made up of more than 85 organizations, the NCHC represents consumers, providers and payors. John has decades of experience in the aging space, having served as the long-time executive vice president for policy, strategy and international affairs at AARP. Previously, he was staff director and chief counsel for the Senate Special Committee on Aging from 1981 to 1984.
So how do we help ensure seniors in this country have the freedom to age successfully?
According to John, we need to do things to make our healthcare system more responsive to the unique needs of this growing senior population.
As people get frailer, “there are many other necessary services that aren’t physician-based that they need,” said John. “We can deliver care outside of a hospital through care coordination and long-term supportive services to help seniors age successfully at home.
“To ensure good care outcomes for seniors living at home, we need to look at the home environment and whether or not a spouse or caregiver is present to help provide care. Either way, the role of the nurse, social worker and/or home healthcare worker are critical pieces of the care coordination puzzle,” he said.
So what are other challenges to delivering effective care outside of the hospital?
John pointed out where a senior lives determines what kinds of services he or she can access. Many necessary services and supports can be delivered at home, keeping costs down and allowing seniors to maintain their independence. But they need to be coordinated. Both informal and formal caregivers need the proper tools and training to ensure safe, effective care is being provided.
“In many parts of the country, especially in rural America, there isn’t much in the way of services,” John stated. “We have much more to do in terms of developing the workforce that’s appropriate to give people tools to access the care they need.”
Other important considerations for this fast-growing, diverse senior population are access to public transportation, the telecommunications infrastructure and the existence of supportive housing.
“Healthcare is such a huge challenge and it’s multi-dimensional. It will probably always be the toughest and most important issue we are facing in this country.”
When I asked John where successful aging models exist in this country, he offered New York City because of the wealth of services available, planned retirement communities in Florida, and naturally-occurring senior neighborhoods appearing across the country. “Whether you are a resident of a big city or a small town or just in a neighborhood, there are a lot of things that you can do to improve the support of people as they age,” John said.
I’m proud to lead an organization dedicated to catalyzing a national movement for successful aging by collaborating with advocates such as John and the NCHC as well as other leading organizations to deliver meaningful solutions in service of our nation’s seniors. And we’re starting right here in our own backyard of San Diego.
President and CEO
Gary and Mary West Foundation