One of the most substantial contributions that I’ve made to policy development amid the COVID-19 crisis is two bills focused on seniors and people with disabilities.
Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) Ranking Member,
U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging

Policy is the key to making positive changes in our communities. We need policies that secure the health and economic well-being of older adults and people with disabilities. In this week’s episode, we are joined by Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging and two 2019-2020 Health and Aging Policy Fellows who served in his office.

Part One ofSenate Special Committee on Aging: An Interview with Senator Bob Casey

Policy is the key to making positive changes
in our community. We need policies that secure
the health and economic well-being of
older adults and people with disabilities.
– Lieke van Heumen, PhD

Melissa starts the conversation with an interesting question. “What has been the impact of your placement with Senator Casey’s office and the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging on your career?”

Lieke van Heumen shares, “This year has been very impactful on me, both personally and professionally. First, it has been a privilege to experience Senator Casey’s leadership and to get to work with and learn from such an incredible group of disability and aging policy experts who are so passionate about improving the lives of older adults and people with disabilities. It’s that same passion that has led me to where I am in my life and my career. I started as a gerontologist, working with older adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, and then pursued a doctorate in disability studies, and research on aging and disability. I realized that I needed to gain experience and exposure to policymaking to contribute to that and to see those improvements in our communities.”

“During my training that I received this year, it allowed me to improve my knowledge and skills in aging and disability policy. I learned how to translate an idea into a policy context, how to brainstorm policy solutions. What steps are involved in writing a good policy, how to solicit the experiences of stakeholders directly impacted by the policy, the complexities of that process, and how it can be better navigated. I now understand better what policymakers need from researchers, what effective advocacy looks like, and how I can be more effective in utilizing my expertise to impact policy. I believe that because of the opportunity to work in Senator Casey’s office my future work will be more meaningful and more impactful. I’m very grateful for that.” Lieke added.

Thomas says, “It inspired me to see their hard work and understand the small steps that we take in the long game that is policymaking. The office was so great and fully immersed us into the operations. I learned that I love the work. I love the public service aspect, speaking to the constituents, hearing what their concerns are, how that comes to and through the office, and drives the policy. That all comes from Senator Casey himself and his passions. That’s what I realized is my calling as well. And I’m going to do my best to stick around and try to stay on the Hill. Then, we’ll see what happens.”

Part Two of Senate Special Committee on Aging: An Interview with Senator Bob Casey

Melissa asks Senator Casey, “Your office has a long history of placing fellows. From your perspective, what value do Fellows bring to your office and to your work?”

Our Health and Aging Policy Fellows became integral to the operations of the committee work that we do.
–  Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

“Fellows are of great value to any Senate office, regardless of the subject matter, regardless of the issues or the policy work that you are doing. With Lieke and Thomas, their contributions have been in the context of the Special Committee on Aging. We have to do all that we can; we have an obligation to protect seniors and people with disabilities. And you have to have a team to do that. Senators are only as good as their staff. That may be a well-kept secret, but I think it is the truth. We are only as effective as the team we build around us. And we have so many challenges right now, especially with the onset of the virus and the destruction that came from that as well as the conflicts in Washington, which make policy development and the advancement of policy much more difficult. So, the environment is, in one sense, policy starved, but in another sense, it is politically more difficult to achieve policy gains. The core of that is not simply having a strategy to pass a bill. You have to get the policy right. You need the subject matter expertise that surrounds you. And in this case, our Health and Aging Policy Fellows became integral to the operations of the committee work that we do. These Fellows bring both knowledge and  skills, and they have the opportunity to learn how to implement the depths of their policy knowledge into the reality of legislating and moving legislation through the United States Senate.”

People with disabilities have huge challenges
that we have got to be responsive to.
– Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

The challenges probably have never been more significant, but it is particularly difficult for certain Americans, depending on where you are in life. Certainly if you are a senior, it has been particularly challenging and even deadly. We know that from the numbers of people who have contracted the virus and have had problems just surviving. People with disabilities also have huge challenges that we have got to be responsive to. 

I often remind our team it has never been more difficult in some sense, or at least in one sense, to be in government, in the federal government. But it’s also never been more stimulating; more challenging. And therefore, the policy gains that you make are much more consequential. I think that when you consider the work that both Thomas and Lieke have done, you can see the benefit of that work, in several different contexts; and legislation is essential.”

One of the singular or the most substantial contributions that Senator Bob Casey made to policy development amid the COVID-19 crisis are two bills that focus on seniors and people with disabilities:

Senator Casey adds, “But we have a lot more to do. We have a lot more progress to make, especially when it comes to advancing funding for, and having a policy focus on issues that relate to people with disabilities, especially for example, with regard to home and community-based services. There is a preference for that kind of care setting – to be at home or in a community-based setting.

We have a waiting list that exceeds more than eight hundred thousand Americans still waiting for those kinds of services.

We need them now more than ever because of the concern about folks being in congregate settings, as opposed to a home or community-based setting. But we have got a lot more work to do – even absent the virus and now evermore so. I was blessed to have a great Health and Aging team, a full-time staff, and particularly blessed to have the expertise, the dedication and the passion that both Thomas and Lieke have brought to their work.”

About Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)

U.S. Senator Bob Casey fights every day for Pennsylvania families. He is a strong advocate for policies that improve the health care and early learning of children and policies that will raise wages for the middle class. Senator Casey serves on four committees including the Senate Finance Committee and Senate HELP Committee. He is also the highest ranking Democrat on the Special Committee on Aging, where his agenda is focused on policies that support seniors and individuals with disabilities. Senator Casey and his wife Terese live in Scranton and have four adult daughters.

About Lieke van Heumen, PhD

Dr. Lieke van Heumen is a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Disability and Human Development at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Her research expertise is aging of adults with lifelong disabilities, specifically intellectual and developmental disabilities. She holds a PhD in Disability Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago. She received both her undergraduate and master degrees in psychology with a specialization in gerontology from the Radboud University in the Netherlands. Before moving to Chicago she worked as a direct support professional and later as a psychologist in several Dutch group homes for older individuals with intellectual disabilities. She is a 2019-2020 American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and 2019-2020 Health and Aging Policy Fellow.

About Thomas Eagen, PhD, MPH

Dr. Thomas Eagen is a 2019-2020 American Political Science Association Congressional Fellow and 2019-2020 Health and Aging Policy Fellow. He received his PhD in Rehabilitation Science and MPH in Health systems and Policy at the University of Washington in Seattle. His research expertise is the intersection between aging and disability, with a focus on older adults aging with physical disabilities. He previously worked as a personal trainer, specializing in exercise modifications for older adults and people with disabilities.

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Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP, FGSA, FAAN. I am a nurse, nurse practitioner, nurse educator and nurse researcher with over 25 years of experience in the aging and long-term care healthcare space. You can visit my website at MelissaBPhD.com to learn more about me, how you can work with me directly,
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