Jul 20, 2022

It’s been one year since MAMH launched the Older Adult Behavioral Health Network (OABHN) to elevate the importance of older adult behavioral health across the Commonwealth.

Rooted in the grassroots advocacy of the Massachusetts Aging and Mental Health Coalition, OABHN works to improve the lives of older adults and support community living. A generous grant from the Point32Health Foundation (formally the Tufts Health Plan Foundation) helps support these goals through advocacy, workforce development, and public education.

The pandemic shed light on isolation and other often-hidden risks associated with untreated behavioral health conditions among older adults. Older adults with untreated behavioral health conditions have higher rates of Emergency Department admissions and hospitalizations, and they are more likely to develop preventable health complications due to conditions such as untreated high blood pressure or mismanaged diabetes. They are more likely to be admitted to nursing homes, with admissions occurring at a younger age.

Yet, despite the fact that older adults were at higher risk of fatality and severe illness from COVID, studies found lower rates of pandemic-related anxiety in older adults. This research suggests that we gain resilience and coping mechanisms as we age, helping us to achieve positive mental health. Aging is a fact of life, and developing quality, accessible older adult behavioral health is imperative to ensure everyone has the support they need to live healthy lives in the community or setting of their choice.

“We see behavioral health as critical and an important part of what we face every day. This is the decade when we are going to get this right. We need to make it a priority to have a statewide behavioral health network available to ALL older adults.”
David Stevens, Older Adult Advocacy Champion (1954-2022)

Ensuring these supports are available requires a strong network of older adults, families, providers, policmakers, and advocates working together to identify and address older adult behavioral health needs. The late David Stevens, former Executive Director of the Massachusetts Councils on Aging and older adult advocacy champion, highlighted the importance of this kind of collaboration: "We see behavioral health as critical and an important part of what we face every day. This is the decade when we are going to get this right. We need to make it a priority to have a statewide behavioral health network available to ALL older adults – not only those covered by the Department of Mental Health or MassHealth but ALL older adults. People with mental health conditions deserve support as does every single older person in our community that needs help.”

For the past year, OABHN has been working to improve access to information, effective behavioral health services, and other resources for older adults through activities including:

  • Successfully led a campaign to more than double the current budget for Elder Mental Health Outreach Teams (EMHOTs), expanding access to behavioral health supports to underserved older adults populations.
  • Formed a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Workgroup, which has been instrumental in requiring new EMHOTs to demonstrate ability to provide services to under-served groups and encouraging culturally responsive older adults behavioral heath supports.
  • Produced the Breaking Down Silos Series, cross-training webinars for providers in the behavioral health and aging service systems.
  • Represented Massachusetts at the National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging, to exchange knowledge, best practices, and policy updates with older adult behavioral health advocates throughout the country.
  • Participated in cross disability and aging advocacy to expand community-based options including older adult peer specialists, through advocacy partners, the MA Dignity Alliance and MA Peer Workforce Coalition.
  • Presented to undergraduate and graduate social work students on ageism, vicarious wisdom and why emerging professionals should consider a career in the field of aging.
  • Began working on public education events in partnership with the Massachusetts Councils On Aging and the MA chapter of AARP.

As OABHN moves into its second year, we look forward to building on the momentum of a whirlwind first year to foster the growth of in-home behavioral health supports, increase diversity of voices within OABHN, and plan OABHN's first in-person conference.

To get involved with OABHN or any of its initiatives, visit our webpage or contact Cassie Cramer, MAMH Project Manager for Older Adult Behavioral Health, at: cassiecramer@mamh.org.

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