By Brian Goslow
Mike Festa has a lot of experience serving the state’s aging community. He assumed the post of AARP Massachusetts’ state director in January 2013, and previously served as the state’s Secretary of Elder Affairs.
Before that he had been a state representative for Melrose and parts of Wakefield for five terms prior to that. In his 17 plus months at AARP, Festa has learned about the respect his organization carries when it comes to advocating for issues important to the lives of residents 50 and older.
“We’re engaged in a lot of big issues that affect people’s lives: financial security, health care, health security and just having a livable and fulfilled life in our communities,” Festa said of AARP. “When you have a non-profit organization as powerful and as well-perceived as AARP is, it gives you a wide swath of opportunities to speak on issues and it gives you a lot of credibility.”
One of those issues was the passing of the Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act (UAGPPJA), which was signed by Gov. Deval Patrick last month and becomes law on Nov. 6., making Massachusetts the 39th state, along with the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. “Although it only affects a small amount of people, it will allow people to move from one state to another and not have a problem and not have to start from scratch with their guardianship,” Festa said.
He credits AARP Mass. members for playing an important role in convincing their elected officials to put the law into place. “There’s no way this law would have passed the house and the senate without a lot of people making the phone calls to their Legislators and the Speaker of the House, the Senate President and chairs of Ways and Means. There was a point a couple weeks ago we were getting a 100 plus calls into the legislature every day.”
It’s a key victory for the state’s 50 and older population. “It’s been a very good year for the state in terms of its government’s commitment to supporting family caregivers — whether it’s in the home care programs or quality of life things like increasing resources for fighting elder abuse. And there was a significant increase of the senior center/council on aging funding,” Festa said, noting it was the first time in six years there have been significant increases in some of those areas.
While progress has been made, Festa said, “We’re an aging state and we have to expand the resources to support people in their communities. There’s no question that people want to live at home, but you can’t do that without these kinds of supports, whether it’s Meals on Wheels or the home care program.”
While its policy advocacy on behalf of its members in Washington is a crucial part of its work, Festa said one of AARP’s national priorities is to get out into its individual states and communities — “where the action is” — for face-to-face meetings to learn about its membership’s concerns and encourage their participation in discussion on areas of interest to them.
Among the biggest concerns of AARP and its members are:
•Financial security: “Many of them (seniors) don’t have their pensions anymore,” Festa said. “They’ve gone through their savings or they’re dwindling their savings to really deal with the cost of out-of-pocket medical care, etc.”
•Age-based job discrimination: “The baby boomers are in a place where they are genuinely worried that if or when they lose a job, getting back on the saddle is very hard,” Festa said. “We know that statistically it takes twice as long for a person that’s lost their job over 50 to get a new job.”
•Fraud in all forms: “The primary focus has to be educating people how to recognize the scams,” Festa said. “They (the scam artists) are more sophisticated and more dangerous because in many ways, the one mistake can result in a whole bank account being emptied out.” AARP’s Fraud Watch Network issues Watchdog Alerts to help members and their families protect themselves; it will be expanding its footprint in this area in the year ahead.
•Elder financial abuse: Festa sat on a Elder Protective Service Commission (EPCS) sub-committee that explored the depth of senior financial exploitation in the Commonwealth, including the use and potential misuse of powers of attorney and guardianships and the kind of vulnerability that some seniors are put into. A report on its findings will be released shortly.
AARP Massachusetts has been working with the Mass. Bar Association, the Mass. Chapter of the National Elder Law Attorneys and the Mass. Bankers Project to help educate the groups about elder abuse, and how “financial exploitation within the family can sometimes be the most insidious,” Festa said.
A legislative priority for AARP Massachusetts is the passing of the Caregiver, Advise, Record, Enable (CARE) Act that would help family caregivers when a loved one is admitted to a hospital — and when they are discharged. The legislation features the following provisions:
•The name of the family caregiver is recorded when a loved one is admitted into a hospital or rehabilitation facility;
•The family caregiver is notified if the loved one is to be discharged to another facility or back home; and,
•The facility must provide an explanation and live instruction of the medical tasks – such as medication management, injections, wound care, and transfers – that the family caregiver will perform at home.
AARP Massachusetts, through its voter education engagement program, is asking gubernatorial and legislature candidates to share how they feel about the CARE Act. “When it comes to improving the lives of our 50 plus population, it’s to acknowledge that we’re in a democracy that requires decision makers to be aware of these concerns and to act on them — and they’re more likely to act on them when they hear from their constituents,” Festa said.
In addition, Festa said AARP supports spousal financial compensation for family caregivers. The Spouse as Caregiver bill, S. 2277, which would have allowed spouses to join the list of family members who can currently be paid to be a Personal Care Attendant, died in the House during the recent legislative session. “That was a major opportunity that the legislature unfortunately missed,” Festa said. “That’s a disappointment not just to AARP and us in Mass., but a lot of the advocates who really made this a high priority.”