Happy 10th Anniversary-Special Groups Share the Spotlight

Article excerpt


In 1993, the American Society on Aging (ASA) began its new strategy of creating membership constituent groups focused on broad interest areas, such as health, mental health and older adult education. That year, either at ASA's Annual Meeting in Chicago or in organizing meetings later, the association launched four new membership networks. At this year's conference, again in Chicago, these networks, along with ASA's New Ventures in Leadership Program, celebrated 10 years of contributions to the association and to the field of aging.

The impetus for special-interest groups within ASA's membership had begun in the late 1980s. At that time ASA had created two special groups in response to new emerging constituencies. One of these groups, the Business Forum on Aging (BFA), emerged from a corporate advisory council created to begin to address the dawning realization in the business community that the aging of the U.S. population would have dramatic implications for the marketplace and the workforce. The other, ASA's Forum on Religion and Aging (later to become the Forum on Religion, Spirituality and Aging-FORSA) was based on a similar realization that faith-based organizations needed to prepare for dramatic change in the coming decades as clergy and their congregants shifted quickly into older demographic groups.


In 1992, the ASA Board of Directors adopted a visionary strategic plan for the association. At that time, economic forces were compelling the fields of health and mental heath to adopt new models, managed health and behavioral health, which had dramatic implications for services to older adults. Because these areas represented the settings in which many ASA members worked, it was vital that the organization create structures to open opportunities for its members to share information about these rapidly changing fields. Thus were born the Managed Care and Aging Network (later to become the more broadly defined Healthcare and Aging Network, HAN) and the Mental Health and Aging Network (MHAN).

HAN has become the largest of these special-interest groups, embracing nearly one-quarter of ASA's more than 6,000 members. Its newsletter and annual programs have addressed cutting-edge issues, such as chronic disease management and cultural competence in Healthcare delivery. Its annual awards program, sponsored by the Pfizer Medical Humanities Initiative and in its fifth year, recognizes exemplary programs that bring together alliances of providers in aging and health to foster innovation and enhance quality service.

MHAN includes one-sixth of the ASA membership. Its prolific output of programs is exemplified in the special programs it organized for the 2003 Joint Conference of the National Council on the Aging and ASA. Two special programs addressed the development of coalitions in mental health and aging and advanced practice for mental health and dementia-care professionals. MHAN members have placed a high premium on coalition-building. They played a leading role in the founding of the National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging and have been instrumental in maintaining Medicare reimbursement for mental health service providers.


The ASA Board of Directors took the opportunity in its 1992 strategic plan to crystallize another important development for the association: It initiated a process for working groups within the membership to develop vehicles for increased networking in areas of interest that cut across many disciplines and settings. We formed task forces on disability and older-adult education in 1992. Out of the work of these task forces, the Board authorized the creation of two new networks that were launched at the 1993 Chicago meeting: the Aging, Disability and Rehabilitation Network (ADRN) and the Older Adult Education Network (OAEN). …