The 2005 White House Conference on Aging: A Social Work Perspective

Article excerpt

In December 2005, the fifth White House Conference on Aging (WHCoA) convened in Washington, DC (http://www.whcoa.gov/) with a mission to develop resolutions and implementation strategies to guide the president and Congress in formulating policies for older adults. Earlier national conferences on aging have been historic, giving impetus to the enactment of Medicare, Medicaid, the Older Americans Act, and the"creation" of the House Select Committee on Aging and Federal Council on Aging (http://www.whcoa.gov/about/history.asp).

With the theme "The Booming Dynamics of Aging: From Awareness to Action," the most recent WHCoA, as authorized by the Older Americans Act Amendments of 2000 (RL. 106-501), urged the president to address the needs of"individuals born from 1946 to 1964 [the 78 million baby boomers] and later ... including an examination of " Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security (http://www.whcoa.gov/about/legislation.asp). Delegates were asked to envision what they hoped to see occur over the next 10 years. In other words, they were to create a "blueprint for aging" in the United States. As delegates to this conference, we would like to examine it briefly from a social work perspective.

Our overall impression of the conference was mixed. To borrow from Charles Dickens, it was "the best of times" and"the worst of times." On the one hand, we detected a sense of excitement and optimism, a feeling that we are entering a new era that will not only revolutionize aging in America but also create a society in which the needs of" all generations" are addressed (Novelli, 2005). Older adulthood could become what Ken Dychtwald (2005), a well-known gerontologist and well-received speaker at the conference, called "the power years," a time of rediscovery, renewal, and contribution.

The baby boomers could live longer and in better health and enjoy more opportunities than any previous generation; for them, life may well begin at 60 (Sheehy, 2005).

The conference began with the 1,200 delegates voting on 73 previously approved resolutions. The resolutions were based on public input obtained during the preceding 15 months from testimony and reports solicited at a variety of events. The WHCoA Policy Committee felt assured that the resolutions adequately reflected emerging issues and concerns. The 50 resolutions chosen during the delegate voting process were grouped for additional discussion at "implementation strategy sessions."

These sessions were a key component of the conference in that delegates were charged with developing "innovative, realistic, and fiscally responsible" strategies and identifying who would be responsible for the implementation of the strategies.

We were pleased that the 10 leading resolutions approved by the delegates incorporated views and positions long advocated by NASW and social work.

These included reauthorization of the Older Americans Act (the number-one-ranked resolution), strengthening Medicaid and Medicare, expanding geriatric training and education for health professionals and students, developing "innovative models of non-institutional long-term care," improving "recognition, assessment, and treatment of mental illness and depression among older adults," and developing"adequate numbers of health care personnel in all professions who are skilled, culturally competent, and specialized in geriatrics" (http://www.whcoa.gov/about/resolutions/WCHoA_2005_Rank.pdf).

It sometimes is just as instructive to note what resolutions were not selected for implementation.

The excluded resolutions also included issues of concern for social workers, for example, access to care and resources by elders with limited English proficiency, the lack of disability resources, enhanced education about alcohol and substance abuse and treatment, financial crimes against seniors, a need for medication management programs, and assistive technology to help seniors remain in the workplace longer. …