By U.S. Health & Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra
I remember working alongside my father during my youth paving and repairing Sacramento roads. My father was a strong man who woke up in the early morning hours every day, went to work, and returned home to do more work around the house. As he grew older, his body might have aged, but his resilient and hard-working spirit stayed the same. “Don’t confuse them with your lean in,” he would tell me when I drafted remarks to constituents. “Tell them about GANAS!” In my home GANAS mean guts, grits, and game, and my father had a lot of GANAS.
Throughout his life and until his passing two years ago, my father remained committed to his community and to his family. And despite the sadness of having to say goodbye, I took satisfaction in being able to care for him and assist him as he led a plentiful life during his golden years.
Like my father, since the beginning of the pandemic, older Americans have shown a lot of GANAS through the disproportionate challenges they have faced. Isolated from their families and friends, separated from community resources, and under siege from a pandemic that put them at far greater risk of serious illness and even death, millions of older Americans set an example of resilience for us all to follow, by overcoming hardships and even finding new ways to thrive. Older Americans are themselves a “Community of Strength,” and our nation is stronger when they can contribute their knowledge, skills and example to the communities in which they live. Older Americans have played an important role in helping our nation weather this crisis, and they will continue to play an important role as we recover. Now it is important that we assist our older adults in their later years.
During Older Americans Month, we recognize and celebrate these contributions, and recommit to our work to empower older adults, so they can live as independently as possible and continue to participate fully in their communities and our country. Here is how:
- HRSA-funded health centers deliver affordable accessible, quality, and cost-effective primary health care to nearly 30 million people each year, including more than 8 million people age 50 and older.
- Vaccination is critical for older adults, but many have had difficulty making or traveling to vaccination appointments or have faced other barriers to taking this important step to protect themselves from COVID-19. With funding from CDC, the Administration for Community Living (ACL) issued nearly $100 million in grants to the aging and disability networks to provide critical services to help older adults and people with disabilities overcome these barriers. ACL, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR), and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) published several new resources and guidance on April 13, 2021 to help states, vaccination providers, and others leading COVID-19 response activities improve access to vaccines for older adults and people with disabilities.
- Funded through the American Rescue Plan, ACL issued grants totaling $1.4B to help older adults recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. Among other benefits, these grants will help accelerate vaccinations of older adults, support family caregivers, provide meals and other nutrition services, help older adults connect and engage with others to reduce social isolation, and re-open senior centers.
- Building on work they have done throughout the pandemic to uphold the rights of older adults and people with disabilities to non-discriminatory access to medical resources, OCR this week announced the successful resolution of a complaint against the State of Arizona. As a result, Arizona’s crisis standards of care guidelines were revised to reflect legal requirements and best practices regarding the needs of older adults and people with disabilities.
- The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has provided grants to all states, territories, and several tribes over the past several years to establish, expand and evaluate kinship navigator programs, which provide an important mechanism to support kinship caregivers, such as grandparents. The Census Bureau estimates that there are 2.7 million grandparent caregivers in the United States.
- The CDC and the Alzheimer’s Association, with contributions from the Indian Health Service and guidance from tribes and tribal organizations, produced the Healthy Brain Initiative Roadmap for Indian Country, the first-ever public health guide focused on dementia in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
- The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC), in collaboration with OCR, developed the Guide to Getting and Using Your Health Records to help everyone – patients and their caregivers – learn about their rights to get, check and use their health information to take control of their health, well-being, and safety.
- The CDC’s Division of Injury Prevention launched the national Still Going Strong Campaign on May 6, 2021 to raise awareness of the leading causes of unintentional injuries and deaths in older adults, age 65 and older, so that older adults can stay healthy and independent longer.
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has provided states with guidance for receiving increased federal funding for home and community-based services (HCBS) through the American Rescue Plan. HCBS make it possible for millions of seniors and people with disabilities and chronic illnesses to live in the community and to avoid institutions.
Growing old is a road that we all travel if we are fortunate, and most of us will need assistance – whether that is from family or friends, or through services provided in our homes – to travel it in our own communities. As we build back better, the Biden-Harris Administration has committed to ensuring that we build the infrastructure we need to provide those services and support informal caregivers. This Older Americans Month, I think of my father and his example and guidance, and as Department we recommit to doing our part to honor older adults and to empowering them to continue living full, healthy and independent lives.