Laura Newland, executive director, DC Office of Aging and Community Living

Thanks to everyone who came out to the Performance Hearing for the D.C. Office on Aging (DCOA), and those who testified before the Committee on Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization and Chairperson Anita Bonds. After more than nine hours of testimony from District residents, seniors and service providers, I think it’s safe to say that our community is passionate about making sure the District is a place where all residents have an opportunity to age well and thrive.

I especially want to thank the seniors who were willing to share their stories and the important role DCOA plays in their lives.  I know we have work to do, but it’s reaffirming to know that so many in our community are truly invested in this process. I look forward to the great work we can accomplish together to make D.C. the best city in the world to age! And we are making great strides.

Last year, we partnered with the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) to pilot a program to reduce the risk of falls and mobility barriers in the homes of qualified seniors and people with disabilities. Thanks to Mayor Muriel Bowser’s commitment to aging in place, what was originally planned as a $1 million pilot, has become the largest DCOA program with $8.7 million committed for fiscal year 2017. This investment is unmatched anywhere else in the country and will enable more seniors and people with disabilities to remain in their homes and in their communities, where they belong. If you are interested in learning more about the program, contact Home Care Partners at 202-638-0050 for more information on program benefits and how you can apply.

I was also happy to announce that Mayor Bowser has committed $4 million towards capital improvements of our Senior Wellness Centers. This substantial investment will go towards building upgrades as well as updates to the interior, which participants will help us choose.

My highlight of the Hearing was the opportunity to hear so many different perspectives on how best to address the needs of District seniors and people with disabilities, and the programs that have had an impact on their lives. We heard from seniors who began attending Senior Wellness Centers to exercise, but also found fellowship, new hobbies and a support system. We heard about experiences from a participant at the Deaf and Hard of Hearing Center in Ward 8, who enjoys spending time with other seniors “laughing, and joking, and learning new things.”

But we also heard that we need to do a better job reaching underserved and isolated seniors. We need to better engage LGBTQ seniors and ensure they have access to life-sustaining services in a safe and accepting environment. We need to think more broadly about our service-delivery model and ensure equitable access to services across the city. And we need to strengthen our advocacy and ensure that seniors in the District are informed about the policies and issues that will have an impact on their lives.

It’s important that we keep these conversations going beyond the Oversight Hearing. These are conversations that need to happen throughout the year in your communities, with your neighbors, families, and friends, and with DCOA — particularly during this period of uncertainty at the federal level that may affect the lives of so many District seniors.

Continue to engage with DCOA and tell us about your experiences living in the District. Where do you see yourself in five, 10 and 20 years? What role do you see DCOA playing in your life and your future as you age? How will changes to federal policy change your long-term plans and impact your ability to age in place? These are important conversations that we must have every day.

We’ll continue to ask for your feedback and we’ll work hard every day to make sure your voices are heard and that you are driving the conversation around aging. Let’s continue to work together, build partnerships and find new and innovative ways to meet the evolving needs of our community in the District.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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