Category

Health Equity

Life at the Intersection: Older Adults Need a Response to COVID-19 Grounded in Equity

By | BLOG, Health Equity, Home & Community Based Services

Dorothy is in good spirits, but tired and growing increasingly impatient. In January – well before life for most Americans had been dramatically disrupted by COVID-19 with stay at home orders and the shut down of non-essential businesses – the 72-year-old Chinese American living in Seattle, Washington’s Chinatown began to see signs that her community’s life was slowing down. She’d been reading the daily headlines in the Chinese newspaper about the virus in Wuhan and other parts of China. But when the dim sum parlor across the street was only about a quarter full on a normally busy Saturday afternoon, and her building’s annual Lunar New Year celebration was cancelled, it all became real.

Dorothy’s story, and the stories of her community, highlight the importance of intersectionality in our response to the coronavirus. An intersectional framework considers the ways that various forms of inequity operate together, exacerbate each other, and sometimes create unique challenges. It can lead to better policies that recognize the different ways the older adults in our communities are experiencing the crisis.

During the period described above, Dorothy was heart-broken to learn that her neighbor, Mr. Zhang, had been attacked while riding a local bus. Mr. Zhang was riding the bus home after doing some errands, while wearing a face mask, not because he was sick but because he was aware of the asymptomatic nature of the virus; he wanted to protect himself and others. Several passengers on the bus began harassing him and threatening him. They told him to go back where he came from and threw garbage at him. Others in the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community have reported a surge in verbal and physical assaults in the wake of what President Trump has repeatedly labelled the “Chinese virus.”

Considering all the circumstances, Dorothy – like many of her neighbors – decided to self-quarantine beginning in early February. She stopped going to the nearby temple, and her local bakery in Chinatown has suspended business operations through the end of April. In the wake of the pandemic, AAPI seniors are experiencing unprecedented levels of loneliness and isolation. But the implications for older adults like Dorothy extend far beyond social – even the home and community-based services (HCBS) that keep her healthy and living in the community are affected. She has asked her caregiver to stop coming and avoids her local adult day health center.

Adding to her fears, getting local and accurate information about the pandemic has been difficult. Aside from her Chinese newspaper, information about the coronavirus in Dorothy’s native language has been limited, particularly local news with Washington-based resources and guidance. Many AAPI older adults across the country are language-isolated, which further debilitates their ability to fight the virus. Like many older adults, Dorothy is not on social media and does not regularly use mobile technology, so information is even more limited.

Supporting older adults who may be isolated, experiencing discrimination (or even hate crimes), who may be limited English proficient (LEP), in addition to being low-income, and whose cultural background is not reflected in the mainstream requires a comprehensive and intersectional COVID-19 response strategy. For Dorothy and other older adults in her community, such a strategy begins with acknowledging that her experiences and needs during the pandemic may look different from other older adults or other AAPI individuals, and is informed by her life at the intersection of multiple identities.

At a minimum, an intersectional response should:

  • Denounce Racism. Importantly, intersectionality-informed policies identify the racism and xenophobia spurred by the coronavirus and require local, state, and federal leaders to denounce it and couple their statements with providing ample support to hate crime prevention resources. For a community that lives with the trauma from the experiences of Vincent Chin, Joseph Illeto, Navrose Mody, and others, efforts to curb hate crimes and xenophobia are crucial. In response to a problematic rise of hate crimes in the wake of the virus, the New York Attorney General created a hotline to report coronavirus hate crimes and xenophobia.
  • Acknowledge Heightened Needs. COVID-19 policies must recognize Dorothy and others like her may have already started self-quarantining well in advance of any state or federal directive, and that accordingly, their needs for socialization, food security, and home and community-based services are perhaps heightened relative to those who began staying at home much later.
  • Be Culturally Competent. Policies have to be created with all communities in mind. For example, even calls from our nation’s health experts to not buy and wear masks fails to recognize the ways in which such a message may be received in AAPI communities, informed by their experiences with Severe Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) less than 20 years ago. Another example of cultural competency is around food. During this outbreak, while the need for home-delivered meals to older adults has skyrocketed, it is just as important that those meals are prepared using culturally familiar ingredients and cooking methods.
  • Include Outreach Strategies for Various Language and Cultures. At a minimum, intersectionality requires in-language resources to reach LEP older adults like Dorothy. In 2020, government agencies cannot rely solely on Google translate, tweets via social media, or employ a one-size-fits-all approach. Outreach to AAPI older adults and other communities must include partnerships with local community-based organizations and ethnic media who have the expertise to communicate with these populations.

For those older immigrants, language-isolated older adults or older adults of color, the harms of the coronavirus will undoubtedly be compounded. Dorothy, Mr. Zhang, and so many others like them are not adequately served by policies that only partially address their lived experiences. If they are going to survive this pandemic and in order for them and their communities to thrive, our response to the coronavirus must be intersectional.

*Dorothy and Mr. Zhang are not real people but their stories are based on real accounts from on-the-ground advocates, the media, and loved ones.

Medicare Doesn’t Cover Dental Care. For Many Florida Seniors, That’s a Problem

By | Health Equity, IN THE NEWS, Medicare, Oral Health, Uncategorized

Miami Herald: Medicare Doesn’t Cover Dental Care. For Many Florida Seniors, That’s a Problem (December 20, 2019)

Spotty coverage — combined with high oral health costs — means many older adults like Domínguez and Morejón, the two people discussed in this story, have no path to getting dental care. According to Justice in Aging, a national non-profit legal advocacy organization, only half of all 60 million Medicare beneficiaries saw a dental provider in the past year. “When we speak with older adults, lack of access to dental care is very much top of mind for them,” said Jennifer Goldberg, Justice in Aging’s Deputy Director. “And that lack of access to dental coverage has a disparate impact on populations of color.”

Denny Chan, Public Interest Lawyer

By | DUAL ELIGIBLES, Health Equity, IN THE NEWS, Medicaid, Newsroom

ETTV America: Denny Chan, Public Interest Lawyer (May 29, 2019)

Even when faced with questionable or improper behavior, many AAPI older adults may decide not to speak up.  In a mini-series highlighting individuals for Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, ETTV – a Chinese-language television station – interviewed Justice in Aging Senior Staff Attorney Denny Chan.  In addition to sharing his personal story of why he advocates for low-income seniors, Denny discusses reasons why AAPI older adults might stay quiet, even if they are improperly billed for medical services, and encourages them to be involved in their healthcare.  “Many older adults in our community feel an immense sense of gratitude after immigrating from their home countries.  Their benefits may be better here than where they came from.  Of course, this is something to appreciate, but older adults should speak up if they are mistreated by the government.” This interview is in Chinese.

Health Care for Elders with Limited English (in Chinese)

By | DUAL ELIGIBLES, Health Equity, IN THE NEWS, Medicaid, Newsroom

AARP TV: Health Care for Elders with Limited English (May 1, 2019)

There are currently about five million older adults with limited English proficiency in the United States, and the numbers are growing. It is important that LEP older adults know their rights in health care settings, and feel comfortable speaking up and asking for materials to be translated into their language or for translation services, if needed. This interview with Justice in Aging Senior Staff Attorney, Denny Chan talks to AARP about how LEP seniors can learn about and exercise their rights. This interview is subtitled in Chinese.

Report: Older Women & Poverty

By | Economic Security, Health Care, Health Care Defense, Health Disparities, Health Equity, Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, Nursing Homes, Oral Health, Safety Net Defense, SENIOR POVERTY, Social Security, Special Report, Supplemental Security Income

Because of structural inequities that impact women more than men, a significant percentage of older women are struggling to stay out of poverty.

There are 7.1 million older adults living in poverty in the United States, with nearly two out of three of them being women. Women like Venorica, who is working three jobs at the age of 70, and Vicky, who once ran a successful business with her husband, are struggling to stay afloat.

A new Justice in Aging report surveys the reasons more women are aging into poverty than men, discusses the support systems that are in place to help older women, and recommends ways we can strengthen and expand those support systems. The brief is accompanied by videos of women telling their own stories. Older women have cared for us and worked hard all of their lives. It’s imperative that we enact policies so they don’t have to struggle to make ends meet.

READ THE REPORT
WATCH THE VIDEOS HERE

How to Access Care for a Senior Who Doesn’t Speak English

By | Health Care, Health Equity, IN THE NEWS, NEWS

Caring.com: How to Access Care for a Senior Who Doesn’t Speak English (Aug. 2, 2018) For older adults who don’t speak English, accessing the health care they need can be difficult. However, seniors have the legal right to interpretation and translation services from health care providers that receive federal dollars through a provision of the Affordable Care Act. The problem is, seniors often do not know they have this right or how to exercise it. Justice in Aging attorney, Denny Chan lays out for this article what rights LEP seniors have, while the adult day care provider, On Lok Lifeways, offers a good illustration of what culturally competent care for seniors with limited English can look like. “It’s an anxious time for people who don’t speak English as their primary language because there’s been a number of efforts to chip away at the protections they have,” said Chan. Read the full article.

White Paper: An Oral Health Benefit in Medicare Part B: It’s Time to Include Oral Health in Health Care

By | Health Equity, ISSUE BRIEF, Medicare, Oral Health

Oral health is an integral part of overall health. Oral health problems can adversely affect one’s ability to maintain optimal nutrition, self-image, social interactions, and mental and physical health. Oral health problems can lead to chronic pain, tooth loss and serious infections. Poor oral health can even worsen chronic medical conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.

Older adults need timely and affordable access to dental care in order to maintain their health and well-being, yet, there is currently no mechanism for most older adults to access care. Contrary to what many believe, Medicare does not include an oral health benefit. Most older adults cannot afford to purchase private oral health insurance or pay out-of-pocket for the care they need. As a result, 70 percent of Medicare recipients have limited or no dental coverage, and fewer than half see a dentist each year.

A new White Paper, An Oral Health Benefits in Medicare Part B: It’s Time to Include Oral Health in Health Care discusses how a Medicare Part B dental benefit would close disparities in dental use and expense between the uninsured and insured and among older adults with few financial resources and limited oral health education. The paper also details how such a benefit could be structured and the legislative changes that would need to happen before such a benefit could be established.

Aging as LGBT: Two Stories

By | BLOG, Health Equity, LGBT, SENIOR POVERTY

Tina and Jackie were born in the same town in 1947. Despite similar beginnings, their lives take very different turns. In 1967, Tina meets Frank. And Jackie meets Frances. As a same-sex couple, Jackie and Frances couldn’t marry, were denied spousal benefits, and experienced a lifetime of discrimination and lost wages. Fast forward to today, and Jackie, like so many other older adults, struggles with financial insecurity, social isolation, and overall lack of health and well-being, simply because they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Read More