O’Brien’s Concerns: Elder Issues

Natalia Cooper

Speaking to a small audience in the Snowden Auditorium on June 12, gubernatorial candidate Shannon O’Brien discussed some of her plans for the commonwealth if she is elected in November. The event was the second in a series of forums entitled “Perspectives on Elder Issues,” presented by the Life Enrichment Through Studies (LETS) program and the Alumni Association of the Gerontology Institute.

O’Brien started off the forum by giving a short speech in which she talked about her political experiences. She described money management conferences for women, an initiative she began during her time as state treasurer. Although these conferences were specifically for women, O’Brien suggested that the success of the conferences showed that there may be an even broader audience for such money management advice.

She continued her remarks by talking about what had inspired the conferences, which over 7,000 people attended. O’Brien described how she saw many people struggling to make ends meet in Massachusetts, especially senior citizens. Some of them were even forced by their situations to decide between prescription drugs and groceries.

“These were my neighbors,” O’Brien said.

The conferences were a way to assist the people of Massachusetts on a more individual basis. She described the still existent wage gap between men and women. Women used to receive 59 cents on the dollar; now they receive 73 cents on the dollar – an improvement, but still a significant difference. Another reason the conferences were geared towards women, O’Brien said, is because women are still less likely than men to receive an adequate pension plan.

She discussed the improvements in the state lottery over the past few years. O’Brien insisted that greater amounts of the lottery revenues are now going back into the cities and towns of the Commonwealth.

The health care system was the next issue she tackled. O’Brien described how in the past three years, eighty nursing homes in the state have closed and thirty-five have filed for bankruptcy. The health care system in this state is a broad one, and O’Brien decided to break it down into four main areas: prescription drugs, the nursing home system, alternatives to nursing homes, and qualifications of the health care work force.

O’Brien charged that the current crisis in prescription drug coverage should’ve been addressed years ago by state leaders. The health care issue was one that O’Brien made suggestions for improvement in.

She stressed the need for alternatives to nursing home care, to work on “keeping seniors in their homes and in their communities.”

That is just one reason why she opposes a lessened health care budget in the state. She also talked about the importance of recruitment, proper training, and retention in the health care field. She hopes that increases in recruitment will improve the quality of training and support for health care professionals. She mentioned how her own stepdaughter is currently attending nursing school at Villanova.

O’Brien finished up her remarks by stating that the people of Massachusetts can choose “four more years of Republican politics, or we can choose to put people first.” One way she proposes to put people first is to delay tax cuts and devote more resources to senior citizens.

“If Mitt Romney wins, senior citizens and kids will lose,” O’Brien insisted.

The question and answer period that followed centered more closely around senior citizens’ issues. The audience members who addressed candidate O’Brien seemed most interested in health care and Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender (LGBT) elderly issues.

A man from the Greater Boston LGBT Aging Project described how the first openly gay generation is reaching their old age. They are also beginning to enter nursing homes and collect their pensions. He described that there are several concerns that go along with this population including the continued lack of legal civil unions for same sex couples and concern about safe and accepting nursing home environments.

O’Brien discussed LGBT issues by stating her support for civil unions and gay rights. This issue hits close to home for the candidate, who has a younger sister who is openly gay. She also took the opportunity to announce that on June 25 she will host a seminar that will focus on financial, tax, and legal issues of the LGBT population.

The other questions O’Brien fielded from the audience had to do with the difficulty that the elderly population has with paying for nursing home care and prescription drugs. O’Brien agreed that the current state administration has been lacking in those areas.

“This administration has been asleep at the wheel when it comes to affordable housing options,” she accused, and went on to say that they are also asleep at the wheel with the health care agenda.

The cosponsors for this forum series are the AARP Massachusetts, Central Boston Elder Services, MASS Homecare, Mass. Senior Action Council, Southshore Elder Services, The Greater Boston Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Aging Project, and Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts-Senior in Community Service Program.

Two more forums will take place on the UMass Boston campus this month, the first on Tuesday, June 25 with candidate Steve Grossman, and the second on Wednesday, June 26 with Senate President Tom Birmingham. For more information or to register call 617-287-7361, or email [email protected].