How did you decide to work in the aging field?
I became more directly involved in the aging field a few years ago when a colleague of mine, Dr. Paul R. Willging, passed away following a bout with cancer. He had long been a leader in the work of long-term care through his years as President with the American Health Care Association and later as a member of the faculty at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He had long worked to affect positive changes in the systems and quality of care to enhance the quality of workforce training and development. Upon his death, I, together with others who had worked with Paul, established an Endowment in his name to provide scholarship support at the Community College in Howard County. The program was designed to help those wanting to pursue careers in gerontology and/or long term care services. However, as the program evolved, the Endowment’s Executive Committee was concerned with the “seeming” lack of interest by students and others in the scholarship opportunity. With this, the school of necessity dropped the AA Degree program in Aging Services.
Our Endowment Committee found what had occurred at the local community college was happening elsewhere throughout the state and beyond with no apparent options to change the situation. Several of us including the CEO of a large long term care provider, a professor of medicine and gerontology at Hopkins, the past president of a community college, the CEO of a financial investment firm, and the director of the local office of aging services saw this as evolving into a critical access to care issue unless actions were taken. Reaching out to other organizations grappling with similar problems, we came up a digest of issues and opportunities as to how we might best move ahead.
Tell me about your state work. What are some of the things you are working on currently?
My work over the many years underscored the necessity of identifying and convening those key stakeholder organizations that are in positions to affect positive change. As a first step, I brokered a partnership with the Erickson School of Aging Services at UMBC to gain the support that was needed and to assure we were touching all the basis with respect to the training and delivery of health care services. As we worked through the process, we decided to focus on one aspect the workforce issue, especially the direct service workers where shortfalls were most critical. The Erickson School was well positioned to serve in this role, and with the active support of Dr. Judah Ronch, the School’s Dean, we planned and convened the “Area Wide Summit on Direct Services Workforce Training and Development”.
Using the Summit as the opportunity highlight the problems and the opportunities, we drew up an agenda that focused on the objectives of highlighting new thinking and innovation in the area of workforce training and development, identifying the resources that could be drawn upon and very importantly, begin work on an action agenda to affect change. With financial support from individuals, organizations and institutions across the state, we were successful in bringing together many of the key players from public school systems, community colleges, long term care providers and membership organizations and very importantly, leaders from both the executive and legislative branches of state government.
Upon the conclusion of the Summit that was attended by more than 200 individuals representing some 100 organizations from across Maryland and the District of Columbia, I invited a balanced representation of senior level individuals form a Steering Committee tasked with job of developing the promised Action Plan. The first meeting was convened in mid-January. Four objectives were decided upon with agreements to establish an organizational home for the initiative, begin work on an “environmental scan” or “landscape study”, set the framework for new projects via a “Center for Innovation”, and lay the strategic and operating plan to guide the work over the long term.
To date, the work has progressed well with the name of the initiative agreed to as “The Maryland Regional Direct Services Collaborative” with work over the next six months taking place via the Rodham Institute at the George Washington School of Medicine. The Landscape Study will commence within the next month via leadership provided by a Steering Committee member and an initial project for consideration for the evolving “Center for Innovation”. A working group on Strategic Planning will be convened following the Steering Committee’s’ March meeting.
How do you see this group working to support the eldercare workforce and older adults?
Working with the many committed individuals and organizations from across the region, we are collectively convinced we will find effective answers to the issues ranging from wages and benefits. From expanding the worker pool, enhancing job satisfaction to public awareness- all of these issues are difficult and call for new thinking and risk taking on the part of educators, administrators, and public officials. Most importantly, the work of the Collaborative is undertaken with the clear mission encompassing the workforce development and training needs of both older adults and persons with disabilities. We are persuaded that one can not be effectively addressed without fully taking the needs of other into account.
What do you see as the future of the elder care workforce?
Our future is challenging. That said, the Steering Committee of the Collaborative believes that the right steps continue to be taken to yield the desired and positive results throughout the region. Not easy- but we’re convinced we’ll soon begin to see measurable and positive changes taking place in the availability of the needed well trained direct services workforce.
Mr. Ronald H. Carlson currently serves as the Chair of the Paul R. Willging Endowment. Previously, he served as research associate with University of Maryland Baltimore County’s “The Hilltop Institute,” and was director of the Policy Analysis Center established by the Horizon Foundation. Mr. Carlson was the president and founder of the Institute for Community Health focused on both community and population health improvement. He earlier served as the director of community health with the Center for Health Policy Studies and was senior researcher for the National Academy of Public Administration. Mr. Carlson was a founding member of the Senior Executive Service and held senior health care policy positions in the United States Department of Health and Human Services for more than three decades.