By Ed Karvoski Jr., Contributing Writer
The Massachusetts Association of Older Americans (MAOA) and the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health are once again partnering for two aging and mental health conferences to be held in Westport and Worcester. It has been a longtime, successful partnership between the organizations as they continue to present four conferences annually, noted MAOA Executive Director Chet Jakubiak.
“When the federal government began giving community mental health grant funding to the states many years ago, one of the requirements in the federal statute was that the states provide educational opportunities for elders and people who work with them,” he said. “We wanted to use a portion of the federal money to provide conferences around geriatric mental health issues. It’s been a partnership that has worked really well.”
On Friday, May 13, from 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., the organizations will offer the conference “Person-Focused Community Responses to Elders in Crisis” at White’s of Westport, located at 66 State Rd, in Westport.
“The overall focus of the conference has been catalyzed by the opioid epidemic,” Jakubiak explained. “The issues that older people have around opioid addiction and other kinds of medication misuse are being left out of the conversation.”
Substance abuse issues will be explored in four contexts through morning speakers and afternoon workshops. First, some elders are addicted to nonprescription substances or to medications including opioid that have been prescribed as painkillers. Second, some elders are potentially at risk of being harmed by younger relatives who are their caregivers and substance abusers. Third, a large proportion of grandparents who are caregivers to grandchildren live in areas where drug abuse is a problem and they need to be aware of helpful resources. Fourth, elders need to deal with the loss of children and grandchildren who have died from drug abuse.
The morning session will feature two speakers: Carl J. Alves, executive director of Positive Action Against Chemical Addiction, and Dr. Angela Haliburda DO, pain management and addiction medicine specialist at St. Anne’s Hospital
Two workshops will be held consecutively in the afternoon. The first workshop will focus on elders facing housing crises. Panelists are Julianne Clark and Gavin Bates, attorneys at South Coastal Counties Legal Services, and the Rev. David Lima, executive minister of the Inter-Church Council of Greater New Bedford.
“They’ll discuss issues happening with the increased amount of evictions from both rented and owned housing of elders that are related to mental health and substance abuse,” Jakubiak said.
The second workshop will concentrate on behavioral health interventions and treatment with elders in crisis. Panelists are Owen Tidwell, director of behavioral health services at Coastline Elderly Services, and Michelle Eaton, director of nursing at Brandon Woods of New Bedford.
“Behavioral health interventions and treatments with elders can help mitigate some of the mental health issues that folks have that lead to other problems,” Jakubiak noted.
On Tuesday, June 21, from 8:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m., the organizations will present the conference “Trauma, Aging and Well-Being in Later Life” at Clark University, Higgins University Center, located at 950 Main St. in Worcester. This is a reprise of the organizations’ successful conference presented last May in Westport and December in Boston.
The format will be three individual speakers. Joanna Bridger, clinical services director of the Riverside Trauma Center, will discuss trauma-informed care. Erin Miller, coordinator of the sexual assault and domestic violence program at Newton-Wellesley Hospital, will speak about sexual abuse in the lives of older adults. Anthony Riello of the Worcester Vet Center will discuss trauma and human resilience.
Jakubiak is in his seventh year serving as MAOA executive director. He’s pleased that MAOA is able to offer conferences regularly.
“We’re an educational and advocacy organization,” he said. “These conferences are a piece of what we do to bring some knowledge to elders’ families and providers about geriatric mental health.”
For more information about MAOA and conference registration forms, visit maoamass.org or call 617-426-0804.