Time to strengthen California’s programs for aged and disabled

An elderly woman uses a walker to help her navigate a California street. (Photo: frantic00, via Shutterstock)

Look around. California’s population is aging and growing more diverse. Aging independently in one’s own home with economic security has become particularly challenging for too many older adults who for years have endured discrimination, inequities and health disparities. These challenges have only intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic and amid surging costs of living.

But I am hopeful. California’s leaders, along with local governments and community-based organizations statewide have the will—and an unprecedented opportunity—to create a California for All. This is a California in which every older adult and person with a disability can access the services they need when they need them. Following two years of tremendous progress implementing our 10-year Master Plan for Aging (MPA), we are more hopeful than ever that we can achieve our bold goals.

The plan is a sweeping framework that reimagines aging and tackles issues like housing, transportation, health, long-term care and social supports.

On Sept. 20, after two years of virtual meetings, we are excited to host an in-person conference in Sacramento uniting stakeholders, policymakers, caregivers, health care providers and other advocates to celebrate what we have accomplished and determine our next steps. The event will feature a keynote address by author and ageism activist Ashton Applewhite, a film by Inclusion Films’ Joey Travolta and plenty of panels and conversations with consumers, legislative and policy experts. The day-long “CA For ALL Ages & Abilities Day of Action” at the Safe Credit Union Convention Center is at capacity, but the free event will be livestreamed and registration is open.

The plan, created in 2019 by executive order, is the result of 18 months of stakeholder and public engagement. The plan is a sweeping framework that reimagines aging and tackles issues like housing, transportation, health, long-term care and social supports—all with an equity lens to benefit an increasingly diverse population. The conference will delve into each of these areas, including recommendations from the Governor’s Task Force on Alzheimer’s Disease Prevention, Preparedness and the Path Forward. We want to hear from the public about their priorities and suggestions on where we should dedicate our resources and energy for the next two years.

The MPA was not designed to gather dust on a shelf but is a living document driven by five primary goals, 23 strategies and over 100 initiatives and implemented by an ever-expanding network of action-oriented advocates, including legislators, counties and other municipalities, faith-based groups, community organizations and philanthropies. We are continually assessing and tracking our progress and refining our priorities.

The to-do list is long, but already we have made giant strides with the expansion of Medicaid to all eligible adults aged 50 and older. We have begun significant workforce development investments, which will include community in-home supportive services (IHSS) workers, mental health peer specialists and social workers to help Californians remain in their homes as they age. And we are investing in housing to address homelessness, including for our older adults for whom affordable housing has become increasingly difficult to find and retain.

We must continue to build statewide capacity and infrastructure so that all Californians have access to the care and services and economic independence they demand and deserve. Now a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, our approach is and will continue to be both top down and bottom up. We have no time to waste, together we can create communities where people of all ages and abilities are valued and given every opportunity to thrive.

Editor’s Note: Susan DeMarois is the director of the California Department of Aging

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