From State Policy Chief to Provider

Article excerpt

Richard Browdie misses being on the aging A-list. "I was always getting calls from the media and policymakers when aging-related issues would come up," recalled the nationally recognized U.S. public-policy expert. Yet, last year Browdie realized that his 3o-year climb up the public policy-making tree had topped him out. Browdie had served as executive director of the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging and capped his career with seven years as the Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging. "I knew that in the natural, organic way of the world, after that position I was going to have to do something different. Very different," the 55-year-old veteran policy wonk told Aging Today.

Since May 6,2002, Browdie, a former president of the American Society on Aging (ASA) Board of Directors (1998-- 2000), has moved from being a state policy chief to serving as a long-term care provider. He has replaced the now-retired Alice Kethley, also a previous ASA board president, as the president and CEO of Benjamin Rose. The nationally emulated, 94-year-old nonprofit long-term care provider serves the needs of elders and their families in the Cleveland area through community-based and residential care, research, education and advocacy.

POLICYMAKER TO PROVIDER

Stepping from policymaker to provider hadn't been on Browdie's mind when Governor Tom Ridge asked him to be Pennsylvania's top official on aging in 1995, but he knew his appointment had a time limit and planned accordingly. "When I took the job, I started thinking immediately: What's my next job going to be?" he explained in an interview. When President Bush tapped the Republican governor to head the Office of Homeland Security last fall, Browdie-- the only Democrat serving at the cabinet level in Pennsylvania-began getting, and listening to, offers.

The opportunity that piqued his interest the most was heading Benjamin Rose. Browdie stressed that the lure for him was both in the organization's strengths and the challenges of the job. On the plus side were Benjamin Rose's long history (it was founded by Rose, a Cleveland industrialist in 1908 as a nonsectarian agency to help elders), its tremendous community goodwill, and-with nationally respected staff, such as Linda Noelker, the newly appointed editor of The Gerontologist, the journal of the Gerontological Society of America-its tremendous team of researchers. "It's our research, and how we use it to be an advocate for change, that's going to put us in the forefront of aging agencies," Browdie stated.

The pluses are balanced by the harsh reality of the organization's stagnating financial resources. As at many nonprofits, even well-established social service agencies, Benjamin Rose has seen the nosediving stock market shrink the principal of its financial endowment, has watched charitable donations fall and has witnessed an increasingly strained state budget for long-term care. "We are stretched to the max," Browdie said. "Benjamin Rose's existence isn't threatened, but our ability to keep up the level of services we provide certainly is." He added, "Cost containment, that's my biggest challenge."

To make matters worse, he noted, the level of public funding for aging programs in Ohio is low. "There's simply no comparison," Browdie said, to Pennsylvania, which provides one of the most generous state programs for elders in the nation.

COMING HOME

Browdie said his transition from "ranking-public officialdom" to a local service-delivery agency is actually a return to his roots. "People see me as a policy expert today, but I've never been interested in policy for its own sake," he emphasized. "It's the practical application of policy that has always gotten me interested."

He explained that his first "real" job was as a case manager for an emergency food and medical services program serving older residents of Union City, Penn.

Before too long he was the organization's grants writer, and that position led to his selection as director of the Area Agency on Aging. …