Reacting to rebellion

Editor’s Note: If revolutions are carried out by organized groups of frustrated citizens, then the Wesley Enhanced Living (WEL) Aging Revolution Summit provides an example of intelligent execution. September 25 marked the second incarnation of this forward-thinking gathering of healthcare professionals, economists, and politicians—all of whom spoke during panel sessions and speeches to 300 long-term care providers worried about the future of their industry. The following story details the experiences of three WEL employees who witnessed this revolution with notepads in hand.

September 25

Park Hyatt Philadelphia at the Bellevue


8:00-10:00 am

Opening Session: National Leadership in Transition: Our Opportunity for Transformational Change?

Reactions by Dawn George, Vice President of Development and Government Affairs at Wesley Enhanced Living

8:30 am: It’s early Thursday morning, and I am listening to the opening forum of The Aging Revolution Summit titled “National Leadership in Transition: Our Opportunity for Transformational Change.” While it’s not surprising to any of us that our nation is facing an economic and a healthcare crisis, to me, what’s most startling is the strain that caring for our aging population will place on our country’s resources in the near future. It’s a sobering thought to consider how our federal, state, and local policy makers will handle this tidal wave and how entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare will survive under this pressure.

9:12 am: One of the panelists, Lynn Yeakel, just made a great point when she said, “Longevity is one of the greatest achievements of the 20th century.” We’ve developed advances in health and medicine that are allowing people to live much longer, clearly a testament to the breadth of human ingenuity, yet there is a dire downside as well. Our current Medicare and Social Security systems were not engineered to accommodate a life expectancy that extends much beyond age 65. Now an antiquated, and dare I say, even useless, notion considering that 50% of men and women turning 65 this year will live to age 81 and 84 respectively. What’s more, one in 10 men who reach 65 can expect to live until 91, while one in 10 women can expect to live to 95. So, as the panelists have pointed out, it is incumbent that we modify these overburdened systems to address current and future economic and social realities—and we need to step up to the plate NOW.

9:47 am: Despite the serious concerns that were raised throughout this session, it ended on a positive note. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and our country isn’t necessarily doomed to go bankrupt in the near future. Without a doubt, all panelists concurred that there is an urgent need for strong leadership at every level. I believe many of my colleagues would share my conviction that we need a national leader who is willing to categorically and unapologetically begin the critical planning that will produce sustainable systems to ensure that seniors—both today and tomorrow—do not face the future with fear, but with confidence that access to affordable, quality healthcare and housing awaits them.

10:10-11:40 am
Morning Session A—Providing Health and Housing Services to the Aging: Challenging Delivery Models
Reactions by Jayne Capwell-Gibbs, director of Enhanced Living, Wesley Enhanced Living
10:33 am: As this session begins I am eager to hear the range of perspectives on how to best deliver healthcare and housing services to America’s seniors, yet it is clear to all present that one inevitable reality is beginning to forcefully impact each unique delivery model: Almost 70% of individuals who are age 65 will require some type of long-term care in their lifetime. This is further complicated by another sobering fact: By 2026, the population of Americans age 65 and older will double to 71.5 million.
11:11 am: The dialogue initiated during this session has been timely and thought-provoking. We’ve been introduced to the philosophical and operational underpinnings of a variety of approaches including continuing care retirement community (CCRC), Life Care at Home, and Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) models. But, it seems to me these models can be somewhat shortsighted because they suffer from a lack of integration between housing, healthcare, and long-term care services—all of which I feel can and should work together to provide a cohesive and affordable solution to aging Americans.
11:32 am: Right now, one panelist is presenting a visionary model called SHIFT (Senior Health and Housing Initiative for Transformation), which is predicated on an approach that funnels federal, state, and private funding streams into a CCRC. These funds are used in a holistic manner for housing, preventive, and acute and long-term care needs of the senior population. SHIFT’s ultimate goal is to meet and pay for the needs of middle income Americans now falling through the cracks. I am eager for more leaders in the CCRC and long-term care industries to take a closer look at this model, and raise the level of discussion among this influential group.
10:10-11:40 a.m.
Morning Session B—Life Expectancy Off the Charts: Where Does That Leave Providers of Aging Services?
Reactions by Audrey Wilkins, RN, Staff Development Coordinator, Wesley Enhanced Living
10:37 am: Dr. Robert Butler is speaking and he has already brought up some very interesting points about aging in this country. First, in the 20th century, we gained an extra 30 years of life. I think many of the audience members knew that we were living longer, but did not realize that it was by this much. Another startling fact that Dr. Butler pointed out is that in America we have 145 medical schools, but only 11 of these school have geriatric departments. Our nation’s population is getting older, but our medical professionals are not being trained properly in senior care. This alarming circumstance precipitates a troubling, farsighted question that we will be forced to address: How will ineffective diagnoses and treatment of senior health issues impact our own pocketbooks, and in a macro sense, the stability of our economy?
10:53 am: This session is helping to dispel a common misconception: There is economic advantage to aging in the home. Amid this panel discussion, I’m learning that the total cost of aging in place may actually surpass the costs associated with CCRC models. This attests to some interesting and disturbing facts I have been learning throughout today at the Summit: The value of family caregivers’ services is estimated at $306 billlion annually, which is almost twice as much as is actually spent on home care and CCRC services combined. And, it’s remiss not to mention the societal price we all pay: Caregiving costs American employers between $17.1 billion and $33.6 billion in lost productivity annually. These numbers should give all of us reason to pause—and to consider senior healthcare and housing delivery models that best accommodate and manage today’s financial and familial challenges.
11:15 am: Many interesting and compelling demographics about aging Americans have been revealed during this session. These panelists believe that the next generation of older Americans is going to be much more active than the seniors of today. This will not be a generation that will be content to enter into a sedate retirement—tomorrow’s elderly will look to continually discover new passions and interests. Indeed, the Baby Boomers will demand to live in surroundings that resemble vibrant resorts, and not the perceived staid environment of nursing homes. This is a clear sounding bell for aging services providers. As a nurse in this industry for 15 years, I know we need to revolutionize our current approach to aging—or else the consequences will be grim. Indeed, I am looking forward to being a part of the solution and creatively addressing the desires and sensibilities of a new generation of aging Americans.
12:00 pm
Visionary Keynote: The Honorable Fred D. Thompson
Reactions by Jayne Capwell Gibbs, Director of Enhanced Living, Wesley Enhanced Living
12:05 pm: Fred Thompson opened up his keynote speech with a great line. He said, “When I was told that the subject we’d be talking about today was the concerns of our aging citizens, I didn’t know whether or not I was going to be a speaker or an example.” I am looking forward to hearing Senator Thompson’s address because he seems to be a person that has mastered how to live his life with a purpose and always challenges himself.
12:37 pm: Fred Thompson continues to captivate the audience with his remarkable life story, a journey that has gotten all the more interesting since age 60 when he remarried, had two children, starred in “Law & Order,” was diagnosed with cancer, and ran for president of the United States—all of this after a successful career as an attorney and two terms in the U.S. Senate. From my point of view, Fred Thompson embodies the essence of tomorrow’s seniors—active, able achievers.
1:00 pm
David M. Walker Commentary: America, Have You Woken Up Yet?
Reactions by Dawn George, Vice President of Development and Government Affairs at Wesley Enhanced Living
1:14 pm: Two words best describe David Walker’s speech about our enormous national debt: powerful and honest. He said we suffer from a fiscal cancer and we have strayed from the principles that have made this nation great. We’re in a leadership deficit and too many people are living only for today. Mr. Walker put it bluntly when he said, “We’re not paying our bills today, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
1:30 pm: David Walker’s poignant words clarify how accepted status quo thinking will undo us. The government overpromises and under delivers. As a society, we are addicted to debt and, in general, are pessimistic. Our current policies are unsustainable. It is true that our country needs a strong leader, but we must mandate more responsibility and accountability from the people who hold the power.
1:47 pm: Every person in this room has been changed by what they just heard. As President and CEO of the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, David Walker can now do what he wasn’t able to do as Comptroller General of the U.S. running the Government Accountability Office: He can now advocate for specific solutions and encourage and engage grassroots efforts to bring pressure on Washington to act. I am pleased that David Walker is working with us to ask these tough questions and raise these critical issues.
2:30-4:00 p.m.
Afternoon Session C—Adding Up the Aging Services Dollar: Time for a Recount?
Reactions by Audrey Wilkins, RN, Staff Development Coordinator, Wesley Enhanced Living
3:00 pm: The point of this panel is to bring to light the aging services costs that are typically overlooked, but nonetheless relevant and real. And, what immediately captures the audience’s attention are the astonishing facts presented by Gail Gibson Hunt. Gail pointed to studies that reveal caregivers spend more than 10% of their yearly income on out-of-pocket expense related to caregiving. If that’s not enough, more than 90% of caregivers report being depressed, which ultimately leads to lost productivity at work. In fact, in a larger sense, it’s been found that caregiving can cost American employers up to $33.6 billion in lost productivity annually.
3:28 pm: If we could provide tax breaks to caregiving families as Gail suggests, I think this would be very beneficial to everyone. The caregiving would still be emotionally and time intensive, but at least some of the financial burden would be removed.
3:45 pm: I appreciate that the presenters in this panel are very frank about the senior healthcare problems we are facing. When you look at the current state of aging services, you have to keep in mind that it is going to take collaboration on many levels to solve the problems our society is facing.

Topics: Articles