November 07, 2017

Assistant secretary for aging shares priorities to aid older Americans, disabled

During a plenary session at the American Bar Association National Aging and Law Conference on Oct. 27 in Silver Spring, Md., the Administration for Community Living’s assistant secretary for aging shared the priorities in his new role. 

Lance Robertson, assistant secretary for The Administration for Community Living, addresses the ABA Aging and Law Conference

The Administration for Community Living was founded five years ago as part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support the needs of the aging and disability populations. In August, a former Oklahoma Department of Human Services Director of Aging Services, Lance Robertson, was appointed to serve as assistant secretary for aging and the administrator for ACL.

In his new role, Robertson said he is interested in honoring what “unites us over what divides us.”

Robertson said the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act is a top priority. He asked to hear from various organizations on issues related to the act. “We need your input. We would love to know from all of you … if we could start over today, what would an Older Americans Act really look like? How can we in a meaningful and effective, efficient way serve Americans?”

Additionally, Robertson shared four “pillars” the ACL must continue to address to “positively impact Americans:”

Pillar 1: Support families and caregivers

Robertson said there are 45 million people in the role of caregiver in the United States. He said he has been a caregiver and it is an issue that unifies Americans. “If you’ve gone through that experience you understand the importance of supporting family caregivers.”

Robertson said he will continue to support caregivers to the maximum extent possible, describing them as the “heartbeat of our great country. Family caregiving is a ‘huge’ economic part of the long-term care system,” he said.

Pillar 2: Improve information about services

Robertson said the focus of this pillar is: “How do we enhance and refine our information and referral systems?”

He said ACL will continue to “push” to provide “high-quality service that is reliable, dependable and timely.”

Robertson said that long-term care costs could be contained if people have more information to make better decisions earlier on. He encouraged all Americans to reach out early to ACL and organizations like it when they have a challenging issue.

Pillar 3: Support community-based organizations

“Our challenge as we begin this next chapter in this administration is: How do we position our networks so we play a bold and meaningful role in what’s ahead?” Robertson said.

Though Robertson did not provide any insight as to what’s ahead, he did say that whatever is ahead, whether it’s health care reform or something else, he would like to see ACL’s networks “poised and ready to go.” He said already there are thousands of agencies committed to the cause of aging, disability and other areas of specialty that are “beyond belief.” He added that ACL wants to involve itself with the best organizations to effectively plug into situations when necessary.

Pillar 4: Protect rights and prevent abuse

As the chair of the ACL’s Elder Justice Coordinating Council (EJCC), Robertson said he’s tasked with pulling together the various programs that help people steer clear of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.

The EJCC brings together leaders from across the federal government to coordinate activities related to elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.

Robertson said he’s proud of the work the federal government has done in this area, but asked that those on the front lines continue to identify gaps in the systems where better support is needed.

Robertson said to the audience of practitioners, “My commitment to you is this: I’m going to work tirelessly on behalf of those that serve. Your voice is critical. I’m always going to be there to hear what you have to say.”

In addition to the four pillars, Robertson said the ACL will continue to support what the White House has deemed critical areas of focus: serious mental illness, opioid misuse and childhood obesity.

The National Aging and Law Conference was sponsored by the ABA Commission on Law and Aging.