MHA CEO Report – Age-Friendly Health Systems

Posted on December 01, 2020

“Those who love deeply never grow old; they may die of old age, but they die young.” — Benjamin Franklin

MHA CEO Brian PetersThe aging of the baby-boomer generation — defined as those born between 1946 and 1964 — is among the most significant megatrends affecting America. The number of individuals over age 65 is projected to jump from 21% of the nation’s population in 2012 to more than 39% by 2050. While the impact is already being felt across virtually every industry and every state, I would argue that healthcare is among the most significantly affected industries, and Michigan is among the most affected states. 

As people age, they leave the workforce and transition to a well-deserved new chapter in their lives. That transition means the loss of countless doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other talented, experienced healthcare professionals from our ranks. The transition also includes interacting with healthcare in a different way, where not only the frequency of care increases dramatically, but also the complexity. The projected fiscal viability of the Medicare Trust Fund gets plenty of media attention for this reason, but the other part of the equation is underreported: according to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, the average couple retiring at age 65 would need $301,000 in savings to pay for their anticipated healthcare costs that Medicare does not cover. The reality is that most are woefully unprepared. 

Michigan will continue to feel these pressures very acutely: while other states certainly have baby boomers who continue to age, they also have higher birth rates and higher rates of migrants from other states and other countries to effectively create more balance. In relative terms, Michigan does not (as an aside, this is a big factor behind Michigan losing seats in our congressional delegation following recent U.S. census processes). 

The good news is that the MHA has leaned in on this topic, even beyond our traditional advocacy for fair and adequate Medicare funding, protecting the 340B prescription drug program, and much more. Thanks to funding from the Michigan Health Endowment Fund, the MHA Keystone Center is now launching its second Age-Friendly Health Systems Action Community free of charge to MHA members. The Action Community builds on existing practices of participating organizations and combines them to reliably implement the evidence-based framework of high-quality care with all older adults in the system.

Known as the “4Ms,” these themes identify the core issues that should drive all decision-making in the care of older adults. They organize care and focus on the older adult’s wellness and strengths rather than solely on illness. Together, the 4Ms — What Matters, Medication, Mentation and Mobility — allow health systems to focus on the needs of older adults.  Importantly, actions by health systems to become age friendly extend beyond just the lifesaving care provided within the hospital, but also establish a culture of collaboration across the community that benefits older adults for years to come. 

This work is even more important today, as older adults have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 in terms of morbidity and mortality. Most notably, over 71% of COVID-19-related deaths in Michigan have occurred to individuals 70 years of age and older. Currently, with high rates of COVID-19 hospitalizations across the state, every hospital bed and available staff member is crucial in our response to the pandemic. Hospitals need to have the ability to safely transfer patients who no longer need inpatient care to the appropriate post-acute care settings so that front-line caregivers can continue to focus on those with the most acute medical needs.  This very specific issue is just one example of how the healthcare system often fails to address the needs of our seniors in a timely and compassionate way.

We owe a great deal to our seniors. They fought wars on our behalf, raised families, pioneered technologies, bolstered communities and so much more. We can do better for them, and the Age-Friendly movement is one tangible way.      

As always, I welcome your thoughts.


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  • MHA CEO Report – Age-Friendly Health Systems

Tags: MHA Keystone Center, Brian Peters, CEO Report, COVID-19, Age-Friendly Health Systems

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