(The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 38, Issue 2.)
The Work and Accomplishments of 2016
In this, its 37th year, the Commission has continued to leverage the cumulative expertise of its members and staff in its pursuit of its mission: to serve as a collaborative, interdisciplinary leader of the Association’s work to strengthen and secure the legal rights, dignity, autonomy, quality of life, and quality of care of aging persons. It is this unique holistic focus on law and aging that enables the Commission’s singular impact.
This issue of Bifocal is our 2016 Year in Review, providing a snapshot of the Commission’s work over the past year. Given the pace required to achieve what we have in the past year, it’s
easy to forget to step back and appreciate the breadth and depth of the Commission’s work. In the past 12 months, the work of the Commissioners and professional staff has impacted the legal practitioners and institutions, public policy, and the public at large in several ways.
The Commission’s work has improved the quality of service provided by Legal Practitioners and the Justice System through our:
- Law and practice publications, such as Bifocal, our free bi-monthly e-journal; our PRACTICAL Tool for Lawyers to help lawyers identify less restrictive options than guardianship for individuals with diminished capacity, and the Pocket Guide for Law Enforcement on elder abuse, among many other publications and articles, most of which are available free on our website.
- National Aging and Law Conference in partnership with the ABA Center for Professional Development. Now in its 3rd year under Commission leadership, it continues to grow in attendance with 252 registrants this year compared to 143 in 2015. Attendees included 25 Elder Justice AmeriCorps fellows as part of the U.S. Department of Justice effort to place elder justice attorneys in legal aid offices across the country.
- Partnership in the National Legal Resource Center, funded by the Administration for Community Living, and newly renamed the National Center on Law and Elder Rights.
- Production of quarterly “Elder Law Essentials” CLE webinars and approximately 50 professional education presentations by staff and Commissioners during the past year.
- Support of dialogue and information exchange among advocates in aging through our email list, Elderbar; and the coordination of entities within the ABA working on aging issues via quarterly calls and the Elderlink list.
- Support of programmatic efforts of ABA sections and divisions that seek to target law and aging issues, including cross publication with the Senior Lawyer’s Division and faculty contribution to section and division CLE programs.
- Continuation of the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program — Legal, an elder financial exploitation CLE initiative, funded by the Investor Protection Trust and Investor Protection Institute, which is piloting the training of lawyers in six states to identify potential financial exploitation of or by their clients and respond effectively.
The Commission’s work has positively impacted Public Policy Affecting Older Persons and their families through our:
- Successful advocacy, in collaboration with other groups, to convince the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services to ban the use of mandatory, pre-dispute arbitration provisions in nursing home contracts.
- Participation in the National Academy of Medicines committee on Family Caregiving for Older Adults, which issued its report in September.
- Technical assistance in response to over a thousand requests per year from multiple disciplines, policy-makers, and the media.
- Online tracking charts summarizing the status of state legislation on guardianship, elder abuse, health care decision-making, and other subjects.
- Collaboration with the National Guardianship Network in promoting and supporting interdisciplinary state groups on guardianship reform. These groups, called WINGS, now exist in 17 states, and with new funding from the Administration on Community Living, the Commission will increase that number and evaluate their success.
- Completion of a review of legal capacity restoration policies and practices and a convening of an expert roundtable to identify model policies and best practices. The report of this cutting edge project is forthcoming.
- Consultation and advisory engagements aimed at improving state health care decisions, guardianship, and elder abuse laws, as well as federal policy under the Elder Justice Act, the Older Americans Act, and Medicare and Medicaid.
- Advisory and technical assistance activities with the National POLST Paradigm Task Force, which has been in the forefront of bringing POLST programs (Physician Orders for Life-Sustaining Treatment) to nearly every state.
- Continuing liaison work with the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing in its efforts to examine the need for an international convention on the rights of older persons.
- Policy development and advocacy efforts within the ABA and at the state and federal level in conjunction with ABA Government Affairs, particularly the February 2015 adoption by the ABA of the Commission’s resolution to support access to and financing of high-quality, comprehensive long-term supportive services for persons with advanced illness.
The Commission’s work has had a positive Impact on the Public through our:
- Educational self-help materials for the general public, addressing legal education of family caregivers (e.g., Ten Tips for Family Caregivers); financial exploitation (e.g., the lay fiduciary guide series); health care advance care planning; and other topics.
- Promotion of National Health Decisions Day, April 16, including updating of the free publication Myths and Facts About Health Care Advance Directives.
- Collaboration with researchers and consumer groups to develop resources and strategies to empower individuals and their families in accessing the information, care, and services they need.
A recurring word I have used throughout these highlights is “collaboration.” The strength of the Commission is its ability to work with and bring together experts and stakeholders across practice areas, different professional disciplines, and the public and private sectors to examine needs, find solutions, and implement them.
I am proud of our successes and accomplishments and look forward to continuing success in furthering the ABA Commission’s work in meeting the law-related needs of older individuals.
I encourage you to get involved. This may be accomplished through participating on one of our excellent discussion lists, such as Elderbar, subscribing to our bi-monthly e-journal Bifocal, interacting with us through our social media accounts, or by contacting us to discuss potential partnership opportunities.
Hon. Patricia Banks