On Monday, I participated in a PBS NewsHour panel on how to improve services and supports for an aging America. PBS brought together a diverse group of long-term care experts to discuss some interesting international models for delivering supports and services to the frail elderly in a way that allows them to preserve their dignity and independence.

The models ranged from places as distant as Finland and Taiwan and as close to home as Capitol Hill in Washington—the program was taped at the historic Eastern Market, just three blocks from the office of the Capitol Hill Village.

I was joined by Laura Gitlin, director of the  Center for Innovative Care in Aging at  Johns Hopkins University; American Geriatrics Society CEO Jennie Chin Hansen;  Mark McClellan, of The Brookings Institution and a former administrator of CMS; E. Percil Stanford, President of Folding Voice LLC; and Deb Whitman, Executive Vice President of Policy, Strategy and International Affairs at AARP.

We brought very different perspectives to this session, sponsored by the SCAN Foundation, but most of us agreed on these steps:

  • More strongly support family caregivers, who are the bedrock of the U.S. system of supports and services.
  • Provide better training, job advancement and, yes, compensation, for the direct care workers who will become increasingly important as the Baby Boomers age.
  • Better integrate medical care with long-term supports and services.
  • Deliver care that meets the frail elderly where they are–not only in their homes, if that is their choice, but in a way that is culturally appropriate for an increasingly diverse America.
  • Bring more money into the system, whether through savings, insurance, a government program, or perhaps some combination of all three. With the number of those needing care expected to double in the next few decades, it is not possible to provide decent care without more money—from somewhere.

In Finland, long-term supports and services are considered a right. That’s probably a bridge too far for many of our current political leaders, but there still are steps we can take to make care better and more accessible for our elders and their families.

If you like to watch the full conversation, here is the video.