Larry Gross of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging Shares Key Insights on Ways to Strengthen the Older Americans Act

Mr. Gross, who was invited to testify before the Aging Committee by Senator Collins, has more than four decades of experience serving seniors

Click HERE for a high-resolution photo of Senator Collins welcoming Larry to Washington this morning

Click HERE for b-roll of Senator Collins welcoming Larry to Washington this morning. 

 

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ opening statement.  Click HERE to download high-resolution video.

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ Q&A with Mr. Gross.  Click HERE to download high-resolution video.

 

Washington, D.C.—“Maine is the ‘canary in the coal mine’ when it comes to the field of aging in America,” said Larry Gross, the Chief Executive Officer of the Southern Maine Agency on Aging (SMAA), at a Senate Aging Committee hearing chaired by U.S. Senator Susan Collins today.  Mr. Gross explained how the myriad programs authorized by the Older Americans Act (OAA) have been instrumental in SMAA’s pioneering efforts to support both rural and urban seniors in the oldest state in the nation.

 

Since 1965, the OAA has served as a lifeline for millions of seniors—particularly those who are low-income—through programs that promote nutrition, support caregivers, offer employment opportunities, and prevent abuse and neglect.  This critical law was last reauthorized in 2016 for a period of three years and is due to expire at the end of September 2019.  Senator Collins is leading the bipartisan effort to reauthorize OAA.

 

“I am committed to ensuring that the Older Americans Act continues to match the goals we set to permit seniors to age with dignity, respect, and community,” said Senator Collins, the Chairman of the Aging Committee.  “My chief goal is to get across the finish line, on time, a robust and bipartisan Older Americans Act that will strengthen support for its bread and butter programs, while providing more flexibility for states to meet local needs.  By enriching the lives of seniors, the Older Americans Act improves the lives of all Americans.”

 

The insight Mr. Gross has gleaned from more than 41 years serving seniors proved invaluable to the Aging Committee’s efforts to emphasize the importance of the OAA and identify areas that can be improved.  In addition to the core OAA services that SMAA offers including home-delivered and community-based meals; information and assistance; family caregiver support, training, and respite; Medicare counseling; fraud prevention; and health promotion activities, SMAA has proven a leader in innovation. 

 

Mr. Gross praised the flexibility of the OAA, which has allowed SMAA to reach more seniors in novel ways.  For instance, in order to address declining participation and rising costs for the Community Dining Program in the early 2000s, SMAA switched to a voucher model that allowed seniors to select their meal choice and dine in a multigenerational, community-building atmosphere.  As a result, participation increased by 55 percent, and the number of seniors from rural areas increased by 61 percent over five years.  Additionally, SMAA revamped the menu and delivery options for Meals on Wheels, and partnered with Maine Medical Center to offer home-delivered meals to patients upon leaving the hospital.  These meals led to a 38 percent reduction in readmission rates.

 

“During my tenure at SMAA, I have seen the Older Americans Act evolve to become a solid foundation for the future of aging services in this nation,” said Mr. Gross.  “Of necessity, Maine has built a national reputation as a laboratory for innovation, testing, and proving policies and practices that will serve our country well in the decades to come.  I am proud of the many national awards SMAA has received in recognition of our contributions to Maine’s legacy, most recently, as the first recipient of the Business Innovation Award from the John A. Hartford Foundation.”

 

“As the leader of Southern Maine Area Agency on Aging for more than four decades, Larry has a wealth of experience assisting seniors in both urban and rural areas,” Senator Collins continued.  “I appreciated Larry’s willingness to testify before my Committee to share his perspective on the importance of the OAA and how it can be improved to better serve seniors.”

 

Mr. Gross offered the following recommendations to “modernize” the Older Americans Act:

 

  1. Explicitly encourage State and Area Agencies on Aging to leverage OAA funds through “private pay” and contractual relationships with healthcare;

 

  1. Modify the OAA to recognize the value in adding cost and revenue sharing options beyond individual client donations;

 

  1. Remove restrictions on Area Agencies on Aging delivering direct services without first obtaining a waiver from their State Units on Aging; and

 

  1. Increase OAA funding.

 

Other witnesses at today’s hearing included:

 

  • Lance Robertson, Administrator & Assistant Secretary for Aging, the Administration for Community Living (ACL), HHS, Washington, D.C.

 

  • Richard Prudom, Secretary, Department of Elder Affairs, Tallahassee, Florida

 

  • Faith Lewis, Great-Grandparent, Simpson, Pennsylvania

 

Click HERE to read their testimonies.