I spent yesterday with more than a hundred elder care professionals at the Seven Acres senior care campus in Houston. For a while they listened to me, but for much of the time I had the opportunity to listen to them. And what I heard was striking, and an important addition to the HSC Foundation’s recently published study based on listening to family caregivers.

We had a wide range of professionals at this program, the 24th annual Lou Lewis Symposium in Gerontology: executives from nursing homes, assisted living facilites, and home health agencies; case managers, social workers, nurses, and maybe even a physician or two. Early in the program I asked how many had also been caregivers for their own family members. At least 80 percent raised their hands.

After I spoke, the participants broke up into a dozen small groups to come up with their own ideas for improving today’s long-term care system. Not surprisingly, there were many suggestions. But there was also a striking consensus on a few broad themes.

Participants were tremendously frustrated at how poorly the system works today. Their biggest frustration may have been over the lack of communication between families and professionals and the absence of care coordination within the health system itself.

A word I heard over and over again was education. These professionals felt passionately that family members, aides, doctors, and–yes–politicians need to learn much more about how elder care works, not at a broad policy level but for individuals. The resources out there today, such as Area Agencies on Aging and Aging and Disability Resource Centers, help. But the participants thought they need to do much more. 

We talked about the need for better training for all caregivers, both family members and aides.

The participants felt strongly that community groups, local businesses and, especially, faith-based organizations need to play a greater role in caring for the frail elderly. We talked about the village movement, where seniors join together to form community non-profits to help one another. But many participants felt that churces, synagogues and other religious institutions could do much more to aid their own congregants. This assistance could come from volunteer committees who help arrange rides, friendly visits, and phone calls.

We also discused the importance of financing long-term care. This group, at least, was skeptical about whether young people would enroll in the voluntary CLASS Act. Even though this was Texas, some even felt the country would do better with a social insurance design for long-term care. But, once again, they felt that better education is the key to encouraging people to begin preparing for future long-term care needs.

I learned a lot yesterday, and I hope the participants follow up on some of their teriffic ideas.