NASW takes part in Conference on Aging

Members, staff active in White House event and forums; help shape policy briefs

Barack Obama at podiumNASW Social Work Pioneer® Bernie Nash is a nonagenarian who has a long history with the White House Conference on Aging. He was a delegate to the very first conference — held in 1961 — and delivered the opening remarks at the most recent WHCoA in July.

President Barack Obama (photo right) speaks during the White House Conference on Aging in July.

“The first (conference) was very exciting; President Eisenhower opened it,” Nash said. “At that time, I was the director of a state agency on aging in Minnesota, located within the Department of Health. The big issue talked about was the availability of a national health insurance to the aging population. After the first conference, Medicare and Medicaid were available in 1965.”

NASW CEO Angelo McClain participated in the main event at this year’s WHCoA, held at the White House on July 13. Multiple NASW members also participated in the main conference event and/or the preliminary forums leading up to it.

White House Conference on Aging logoThe 2015 WHCoA focused on four themes: elder justice; healthy aging; retirement security; and long-term services and supports. The White House released four policy briefs prior to the July event that addressed the four themes. NASW provided comments and recommendations in the briefs.

About 10,000 Americans turn 65 years of age every day. Given this fact, McClain emphasizes that now is the time for the nation to redouble efforts to ensure that every older American has the resources and support needed to thrive and to age with dignity.

“NASW supports President Obama’s work to strengthen Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security, and his efforts to improve quality of life for older Americans,”

McClain said. “NASW has been at the vanguard of aging services for decades, helping to integrate gerontological expertise into everyday social work practice across the continuum of needs to assure that older adults have the tools they need to be healthy, respected and independent.”

The White House hosted five invitation-only regional forums in preparation for the 2015 WHCoA. The forums were held in Boston, Cleveland, Phoenix, Seattle, and Tampa. NASW nominated social workers to participate as stakeholders in the forums, and each forum addressed the four themes of the conference.

NASW member and 2014 National Lifetime Achievement awardee Phyllis Mitzen, who participated in the Cleveland forum in April, said one issue the forum focused on is the importance of reauthorizing the Older Americans Act (OAA). The act was created in 1965 and funds critical services for older adults, such as community service employment, nutrition programs, and family caregiver support services.

“(The OAA) starts with policy at the top and flows down to look at the landscape and livability of communities, and how we can bridge the social and health needs of older people so they can continue to thrive and participate in the community,” Mitzen said.

In addition to the five regional forums, the White House held a Washington, D.C.–based forum on family caregiving in preparation for the WHCoA. NASW nominated association member Sandra Edmonds Crewe, professor and associate dean at the Howard University School of Social Work, to participate in the forum.

Crewe says caregiving for an older person is multidimensional. It involves health care, spirituality and environment.

“Caring for the elderly is important because we have an unprecedented growth in longevity,” Crewe said. “We have more people living to older ages. What comes with that is caregiving. We have to be ready.”

NASW Senior Practice Associate Chris Herman, who led NASW’s activities related to the 2015 WHCoA, said this year’s conference was different from previous WHCoAs because the OAA had not yet been reauthorized.

The act funded previous conferences, and the lack of funding for 2015 influenced the conference on many levels. For example, there was no formal delegate nomination process and no policy resolutions.

NASW CEO Angelo McClainNASW CEO Angelo McClain (photo right) attends the White House Conference on Aging in July. NASW helped shape policy briefs on the four themes of the conference: elder justice; healthy aging; retirement security; and long-term services and supports.

NASW has consistently advocated for OAA reauthorization, and the Senate unanimously passed the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2015 in mid-July. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for consideration.

Despite the limitations associated with the lack of OAA funding, Herman said that both the Obama administration and numerous advocates for older adults — including NASW — have used the 2015 WHCoA to raise awareness of aging-related issues to the greatest degree possible throughout the year.

During the July conference, the Obama administration announced multiple actions on behalf of older adults. These include development of a federal workforce training curriculum to enhance services for people affected by Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and the launch of, described in a July 13 fact sheet issued by the White House Office of the Press Secretary as “a one-stop resource for government-wide information on helping older adults live independent and fulfilling lives.”

The Obama administration also recognized the social work profession’s role in serving older adults during the July 13 event. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald, who participated in a panel on caregiving, acknowledged that licensed clinical social workers staff the toll-free caregiver support line for the VA Family Caregiver Initiative.

During a panel on elder abuse, Kathy Greenlee — who serves both as administrator of the Administration for Community Living and as Assistant Secretary for Aging — recognized social workers as members of interdisciplinary teams who address elder abuse.

The White House Conference on Aging is held approximately once every 10 years. The conference has been viewed as a catalyst for the development of aging policy over the past 50 years. It has also generated ideas and momentum prompting the establishment of and/or key improvements in many of the programs that represent America’s commitment to older Americans, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the Older Americans Act.

Additional NASW members and other social workers involved in the 2015 WHCoA forums and/or July conference included: Georgia Anetzberger; Frank Baskin; Elise Beaulieu; David Biegel; Robin Bonifas; Louis Colbert; Charles Emlet; Charles Fahey; Denise Gammonley; Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen; Steve Gorin; Paige Hector; Beda Herbison; Nancy Hooyman; Lisa Krinsky; Nancy Kropf; Kathy Kuhn; Kathleen Collins Pagels; Deborah Rubenstein; Jeanette Takamura; Fernando Torres-Gil; and Patricia Volland.

View the archived site: White House Conference on Aging

NASW Resources on Aging:

NASW developed a media tool kit on aging. Social workers work with older adults not only through the aging services network and across the health care continuum, but also in settings such as child welfare agencies, employee assistance programs, faith-based organizations, and housing programs.

NASW's Aging Tools