If you feel lost, you are not alone

Katie Smith Sloan is president and CEO of LeadingAge, a national association representing nonprofit aging services providers.

Imagine a visit to a mother, father, aunt, or uncle in which you come to the understanding—by observation or conversation or both—that a family member needs services or supports in order to maintain an acceptable level of independence and dignity in their life. This happens in family living rooms, at kitchen tables, and over the phone every day. Hundreds of times. Where to turn next? There is no GPS for this.

If you feel lost, you are not alone.

Our nation’s current assortment of services and supports is fragmented, offering little guidance to older adults and their families as they attempt to coordinate, navigate, and manage much needed services and supports. Families are often left to tackle this overwhelming challenge alone. With increasing numbers of older adults in communities across the country, we can and must do better.

We need a national system that puts all needs of the individual front and center—not just the immediate need that presents itself. We must understand the individual's goals, find and coordinate relevant services, and monitor progress regularly and over time. We need to organize all this around a hub. A hub that it is focused solely on the individual older adult—his or her needs, desires, and preferences. Not a funding stream, an insurer, or an agency. At the hub, it is all about mom, dad, aunts, uncles.

The hub is the connector—to services, supports, and resources. It seems so obvious, and yet, it is a far cry from where we are today.

LeadingAge, a national, nonprofit association committed to improving the quality of life for people as they age, is charting a new course that starts with a hub. Extending beyond the hub are the myriad services, supports, and resources that an individual needs to lead a healthy, vibrant life.

This new course demands that we look beyond a narrow medical issue or symptom, and instead at the the individual as a whole. Here is what we propose:

●       Coordinating services instead of working in silos.
●       Defining services and supports more broadly—meals, transportation, social connectedness, wellness—in addition to more formal clinical services.
●       Ensuring that coverage isn't constrained by what service it covers but rather, what needs it meets.
●       Measuring quality by how the individuals goals were achieved across the spectrum of services and supports.

This is a vision that, at its most basic level, is all about the quality of life of individuals. It’s about enabling aging service providers to do what they do best. It’s about understanding that we must change the way we design and deliver services and supports.

In short, it is about putting people first. Older adults, their families, and our communities deserve nothing less.