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White House Reflections: Part One – The Experience!

Posted: October 23, 2012

Presenting at the White House was awesome—personally, professionally and in terms of establishing JCHE as a best practice organization. I will try to chronicle the experience in a few short blog entries.

First, the place! Walking through the halls (after going through 3 security checks) was inspiring. We walked past the office of White House counsel, the President’s Office of Community Engagement and other key offices (I recognized these spaces from the old West Wing TV show so it felt quite natural for Merle and me to casually walk and talk as we passed them!) When I first arrived in the room where the forum was held -- the Indian Treaty Room -- I had to walk out to compose myself.  The décor and the plaques on the wall bespoke significance.  This was the site where the original charter for the United Nations was signed, as well as the treaty creating the International Monetary Fund (yes, we all associate that with Bretton Woods, but apparently it was negotiated in New Hampshire but signed in this very room).  I thought, “who am I to speak in this room” but then I took a deep breath and thought, “it’s not me, it’s the quality and thoughtfulness of the JCHE approach, and that needs to be shared” -- and back in I went!

Security was impressive: there were guards positioned at each set of elevators, each corner and along the route making sure we followed the designated path.  Then we had to show our ID’s, even as we left the building to make sure they matched with the admissions badge!  I thought about the woman who crashed President Obama’s first state dinner. Given the scrutiny our group received, I wondered how she possibly got in!!

Here’s what the day was all about: key Obama Administration officials shared their thinking about policy issues in the field of aging and member agencies of the Association for Jewish Aging Services conveyed compelling examples of their successes.  We focused on three primary areas: housing and community-based services, elder abuse and the Affordable Care Act.  I led the first panel.  I had 10 minutes or so to lay the groundwork for the discussion. There were, of course, countless ways to address amount of information we could explore so I gave a lot of thought to shaping the parameters.  As a general strategy, I tried to hone down my points to a few critical ones and for each point, pair a statistic with a story.

My panel included two CEO’s of fabulous non-profit agencies—Michael Rosenblut from Parker Jewish Institute for Health Care & Rehabilitation in New York and Jeffrey Freimark from Miami Jewish Health Systems, both extensive multi-service organizations. We were joined by two Administration representatives: Kathy Greenlee, the Assistant Secretary for Aging from the Department of Health and Human Services and Estelle Richman, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. 

 My outline for the presentation was:

  1. Highlight four distinct ways our agencies simultaneously improve the quality of life for our residents AND save the government money;
  2. Identify big structural challenges to replicating/expanding our programs;
  3. Create opportunities to implement best practices

My colleagues and I reinforced the notion that home and community-based services support our elders with dignity and efficiency.  We work daily to maximize independence, the quality most treasured by our elders, by providing services in the least institutional setting possible, which coincides with the most efficient deployment of resources. As we work to make the senior years ones of growth and personal fulfillment—we find ways to both tap the enormous potential within each senior and to facilitate ways for them to offer their wisdom and experience to the next generation.


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