TFAH wanted to provide an opportunity to explore and expand public health’s role in aging. Our goal is that state and local public health departments across the country become age-friendly public health systems. This means they recognize aging as a core public health issue and then leverage all their skills and capacity to dive in and improve older adults’ health and well-being.
-Megan Wolfe, JD (03:08-03:35)
Americans are living longer and more productive lives than ever before and we’re going to see a rise in both the number and proportion of older adults – to nearly a quarter of the population by 2060. That’s 98 million people…and means if you were born in 1995 or earlier, we are talking about you and what you’re going to need as you get older. This will not only be the largest number of older adults in our history, but they will also be the most racially and ethnically diverse older population we’ve ever seen.
In line with that, in today’s episode of This Is Getting Old, we will be talking about Age-Friendly Public Health Systems as part of our Age-Friendly Ecosystem Series.
In five previous podcasts, we talked about the history of the Age-Friendly Health Systems initiative and the 4M’s. Today I am joined by Megan Wolfe, who is with Trust for America’s Health – a non-partisan public health policy, research, and advocacy organization that envisions a nation that values health and well-being for all.
The good news in talking about an Age-Friendly Public Health system today is that the COVID pandemic has illustrated the critical role public health plays in our daily lives, both as American and global citizens. Public health’s mission to improve the health and safety of our nation has not been in the forefront for as long as it has during the pandemic.
Every public health department should be age-friendly – and while we have a lot of work to do, a lot of great work is already being done and today’s episode highlights that.
Part One of ‘The Age-Friendly Public Health Systems.’
America’s public health sector has very few specialized programs that emphasize older adults’ safety and well-being. It has always been an afterthought as public health struggled with the concerns of older people.
Building and embracing Age-Friendly Public Health Systems and communities is an important way of promoting public health, vitality, and aging. Thus, research, experience, and policy on aging projects began to transform this promising concept into concrete actions that could be encouraged and supported by the government. These efforts answer concerns about the forms in which societies can impact healthier aging, age-friendly neighborhood programs, and outlines historical and future actions to promote community improvement mechanisms on behalf of our increasingly aging population.
Two questions drove the conversation when thinking about Age-Friendly Public Health Systems:
- Does public health have a role to play in aging?
- Would the aging services sector welcome public health being engaged in this work?
To become age-friendly is to understand the principles for age-friendly initiatives, but then taking principles and determining how to tailor it to where we live; to the needs of that particular aging population.”
– Melissa Batchelor, PhD, RN, FNP-BC, FGSA, FAAN
The Importance of Creating an Age-Friendly Public Health Initiative
The reasons that public health hasn’t included older adults and aging has been two-fold:
- Many of the policies designed to support older adults, like Medicare, Medicaid, and the Older American’s Act, did not explicitly include a role for public health.
- There has always been a lack of funding for general public health agencies for dedicated initiatives for those 65 years and older
Public health has contributed to Americans’ longevity, so it only made sense to explore and expand its role in healthy aging, in partnership with the aging services sector that already does so much to serve this population.
The Birth of Age-Friendly Public Health Systems Initiative
In place of this state of public health, in 2017, a group of leaders came together to develop a public health framework to support older adults’ health and well-being.
A year later, under the leadership of TFAH, the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Florida Departments of Health and Elder Affairs, the AFPHS initiative started as a pilot in Florida and included. 37 of the states’ 67 county health departments.
The Florida pilot demonstrated the value of aligning and coordinating approaches for older adults to identify and provide needed programs and services. Thus, AFPHS offers a framework that allows priorities to be established based on geographic region/ communities. It gives public health practitioners a place to start.
Part Two of ‘The Age-Friendly Public Health Systems.’
What’s the Framework For an Age-Friendly Public Health System All about?
The Framework for an Age-Friendly Public Health System includes five key potential roles for public health.
- Connecting and Convening with multiple sectors and professions to provide support, services, and infrastructure to promote healthy aging.
- Coordinating existing supports and services to avoid duplication of efforts, identify gaps, and increase access to services and supports.
- Collecting and Disseminating Data to assess community health status (including inequities) and the aging population needs to inform interventions.
- Communicating and disseminating research findings and best practices to support healthy aging.
- Complementing and supplementing existing support and services, particularly in integrating clinical and population health approaches.
Public Health System Recognition Program is designed to incentivize state and local public health departments to become age-friendly and take those steps needed to transform their health departments to be age-friendly ones.
-Megan Wolfe, JD
Want To Know More?
If you want to learn more, the Public Health Accreditation Board will be considering healthy aging recommendations and has developed a Tip Sheet on how to get started to align healthy aging with the PHAB Standards and Measures.
TFAH offers an informational webinar on the Age-Friendly Public Health System Recognition Program. All state, territorial, local and tribal public health departments are eligible to enroll and participate in the Recognition program.
You may also visit the Age-Friendly Public Health Systems website, and Megan Wolfe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
COMING SOON is a stand-alone website for Age-Friendly Public Health Programs. So stay in touch and get connected!
About Megan Wolfe
Megan Wolfe is a Senior Policy Development Management at Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), where she works with the Policy Development team to advance a modernized, accountable public health system.
Her current work at TFAH focuses on advancing Age-Friendly Public Health Systems. Megan has been engaged in public policy and advocacy for over 20 years and has represented Fortune 500 and non-profit organizations.
Before joining TFAH, she served as Government Relations Manager for ASCD, an international education association comprising teachers, principals, superintendents, and higher education professionals.
Her work experience also includes serving as Government Relations Manager for the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and as a staff member for the Senate Judiciary Committee working on the federal judgeship confirmation process.
Megan received her undergraduate degree in Government from the University of Texas at Austin and earned a JD from the Antonin Scalia Law School.
I earned my Bachelor of Science in Nursing (‘96) and Master of Science in Nursing (‘00) as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) from the University of North Carolina Wilmington (UNCW) School of Nursing (SON). I truly enjoy working with the complex medical needs of older adults. I worked full-time for five years as FNP in geriatric primary care across many long-term care settings (skilled nursing homes, assisted living, home and office visits) then transitioned into academic nursing in 2005, joining the faculty at UNCW SON as a lecturer.
I obtained my PhD in Nursing and a post-Master’s Certificate in Nursing Education from the Medical University of South Carolina College of Nursing (2011) ) and then joined the faculty at Duke University School of Nursing as an Assistant Professor. My family moved to northern Virginia in 2015 and led to me joining the faculty at George Washington University (GW) School of Nursing in 2018 as a (tenured) Associate Professor where I am also the Director of the GW Center for Aging, Health and Humanities.
Find out more about her work HERE.