This summer a network of diverse individuals came together over eight weeks to discuss topics including how Rhode Islanders can thrive as they age gracefully in place. The discussions were part of the inaugural Senior Fellows program that was organized by Age-Friendly Rhode Island and Leadership Rhode Island with funding by Point32Health Foundation.
At the closing celebration held at Rhode Island’s State House, participating Senior Fellows presented ways they will continue to contribute and make a difference by sharing a civic commitment. Leadership Rhode Island’s executive director Michelle Carr told the group that she eagerly anticipates the incredible impact the twenty-four older adults will make in Rhode Island.
Housing and food insecurity were topics of interest for several fellows’ civic commitments. Seventy-five-year-old Gerald Suggs of Lincoln highlighted the housing crisis in Rhode Island and questioned whether single family homes for the aging population are a sustainable idea. With potential mobility issues and fixed incomes challenged by the significant rises in the annual cost of living, Mr. Suggs called for zoning regulations to be re-examined so that more humans might live on one lot.
Deborah Imondi who has worked in the mortgage finance industry for over 50 years agreed. The North Providence resident told her cohorts that many of her friends’ parents, and in some cases her friends, have lost their spouse and are living alone in homes that are too large and too empty for their needs. The homes are also costly in terms of taxes, insurance, utilities and maintenance. Ms. Imondi proposed more congregant living ala “The Golden Girls.” Her civic commitment is to urge the governor to appoint a full-time director of the Department of Health in order to promulgate regulations under the existing Adult Supportive Care Residents Act.
Sandra Conner saw how difficult the transition of living in a single-family home to an independent living facility was when her 93 year old mother moved to one four months ago. She believes the move has accelerated her mother’s decline which prompted her to investigate alternative models to traditional assisted living residences. Ms. Conner is focusing on a nonprofit organization that provides GREEN HOUSE® Homes, non-institutional environments for older Americans with Shahbazims. She explained that Shahbazims are specially trained CNA’s who also cook and do laundry while engaging residents and making decisions for the home. With one GREEN HOUSE® Home located in Rhode Island, Ms. Conner plans to conduct a feasibility study to determine if more GREEN HOUSE® Homes might be developed in the state.
While volunteering at Rhode Island’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s office over the past few years, Virginia Lee of East Greenwich has witnessed the critical staffing shortage Rhode Island has at long term care facilities. Ms. Lee noted she was not speaking for anyone in the ombudsman office before expressing concern over complaints that were filed with the office. Grievances included cases of sexual assault, verbal and physical assault, theft, medical mix-ups and general neglect. Ms. Lee said she will continue to advocate for a bill that allows residents of long term care facilities to install electronic monitoring in their rooms. “If cameras were allowed in residents’ rooms I believe these despicable incidents would be greatly reduced” said Ms. Lee who furthered that cameras would also exonerate health care providers from unfounded allegations and suspicion of maltreatment.
Sharon Johnson of Scituate intends to use Ms. DePlante’s flyer to accomplish her civic commitment which also centered on eating healthy and nutritious food as one ages. Ms. Johnson manages a farmer’s market which has a senior coupon program. The program is income based so Ms. Johnson means to lobby state legislatures to expand the income limits and issue coupons bi-weekly to aging Rhode Islanders. In tandem with this effort, she will use social and traditional media to encourage gardeners who have extra food to bring it directly to senior centers to benefit their members.
Updates on each of the Senior Fellows’ civic commitments will be provided when they meet again in November. For more information visit agefriendlyri.org.