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Massachusetts lawmakers consider renaming Office of Elder Affairs

Massachusetts Statehouse.
Elizabeth Román
Massachusetts Statehouse.

Lawmakers and advocates for Massachusetts’ aging citizens gathered on Beacon Hill Wednesday in support of Gov. Maura Healey’s proposition to rename the Executive Office of Elder Affairs to the Executive Office of Aging and Independence.

"Consumers felt our agency name was vague, and did not clearly explain what we do or support them," said Robin Lipson, the acting secretary of Elder Affairs, who spoke on behalf of the Healey administration’s plans to change the name in order to reduce stigma that surrounds aging and better represent their mission.

"The Executive office of Aging and Independence is a name that not only provides a clear description of what our agency does, and the community it serves, but it also reflects our older population's values," Lipson said.

She added that the name change is in response to the aging population’s needs and priorities — primarily living mostly independently — and will promote policies that will allow Bay Stater's to age on their own terms.

The name change will not affect the services that the Office of Elder Affairs provides and will remain as part of the state's Executive Office of Health and Human Services.

Paul Lanzikos, co-founder of the disability and elderly advocacy group Dignity Alliance Massachusetts and a former secretary of elder affairs under Gov. Michael Dukakis, testified about the impact the name change, but said more needs to be done.

"While we should take pride in the position and office having this level of potential influence to relevant government affairs, the current constraints and expectations as it's located within the bureaucracy does not match the statutory charge," he said.

Lanzikos hopes that the office can be restored as an independent agency that will create statutory reporting requirements and be able to creative more effective policies in order to assist and support the elderly in the future.

Emily Shea, the Age Strong Commissioner for the City of Boston also testified in front of Massachusetts lawmakers.

"I think that it's important to update language to make sure what we call ourselves is accessible and resonates with the people that we serve," she said.

Shea told the committee that Boston conducted a study back in 2018, when the city department was referred to as the Commission on the Affairs of the Elderly. The study discovered that many residents over the age of sixty did not prefer to associate with being known as the elderly and felt less inclined to reach out for assistance services. Shea advocated for the committee to do everything in it's power to elevate aging within the state.

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