Dec 20, 2021

With generous support from a 3-year grant from the Tufts Health Plan Foundation, MAMH launched the Older Adult Behavioral Health Network (OABHN) in July 2021 to elevate the importance of older adult behavioral health across the Commonwealth.

Nearly one in 10 nursing home residents in the US had died of COVID by March 2021. While residents of nursing homes and other long term care settings account for 1% of the population, by March 2021 they accounted for 34% of COVID deaths. These percentages are even higher in Massachusetts, and both state and national data reflect higher percentages of fatalities in nursing homes where the majority of residents are non-white.

Expanding non-institutional, culturally responsive community living options for older adults is critical to avoid a repeat of this tragedy. This issue is especially important for older adults with behavioral health conditions. While research indicates that we gain resilience and coping mechanisms which lead to positive mental health as we age, those with untreated behavioral health conditions are three times more likely to be admitted to nursing homes, and these admissions occur at a younger age.

Older adults face barriers to mental health treatment including lack of transportation, isolation, increased stigma around mental health, and co-occurring cognitive or physical health conditions that cause difficulty getting to appointments, Providing accessible support for these older adults in their homes, before a crisis occurs, is critical to reduce expensive and unwanted nursing home admissions.

“OABHN advocates for accessible, culturally responsive services to support older adults to live healthy lives in the community or setting of their choice.”
Cassie Cramer, MAMH Project Manager for Older Adult Behavioral Health

MAMH collaborated with members of the existing MA Aging and Mental Health Coalition to strengthen and expand the Coalition’s membership and work under its new name, OABHN. The newly energized statewide advocacy network has three principal goals: 1) policy and advocacy; 2) workforce development; and 3) public education.

To accomplish these goals, OABHN expanded the coalition to engage more diverse communities and voices in strategic planning and all network activities. Cassie Cramer, social worker with the Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services’ older adult mental health outreach team and longtime peer, disability, and aging services advocate, was hired to coordinate OABHN’s work, which includes:

Cross-disability Collaboration: OABHN partners with advocates from independent living centers and Dignity Alliance Massachusetts, all of whom share the common goal of transforming long-term care and expanding community-based living options for older adults. This intersection of aging and cross-disability advocates has been the foundation for several successful policy and advocacy initiatives, including the expansion of community-based older adult behavioral health outreach teams. OABHN will launch a Policy Committee early next year.

“A major barrier to getting mental health treatment is the failure of health providers to recognize mental health issues. Many primary care health providers lack adequate training in both mental health and geriatrics.”
OABHN member Kathy Kuhn, LICSW, Center on Aging & Disability Education & Research (CADER), Boston University School of Social Work

Training: Members of OABHN have long recognized the need for better integration of behavioral health and older adult services, including local partnerships to serve people with complex physical and behavioral health needs. To this end, OABHN is sponsoring a new webinar series, Breaking Down Silos, to provide cross-training and networking for providers in the behavioral health and older adult service systems. Visit the OABHN training calendar to find more training opportunities across the Commonwealth.

“Embodied experiences of providers will destigmatize [mental health treatment] for black and brown seniors who are hesitant and move the profession forward.”
OABHN member Peninna Delinois-Zephir, Director of Constituent Services, City of Boston

Behavioral Health Equity: OABHN joined the health equity task force led by Tufts Healthy Aging and will launch its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee early next year. The committee’s overarching goals include:

  • Promote and support a culturally responsive older adult behavioral health workforce;
  • Ensure diversity of perspectives and voices in priorities and activities of OABHN; and
  • Better understand and communicate the impact of race, ethnicity and culture on older adult behavioral health.

OABHN members are a strong voice for ensuring that behavioral health resources serve all older adults, successfully advocating for the inclusion of language in the latest RFP for EMHOTs to address the needs of older adults who face cultural and linguistic barriers.

To become involved with OABHN or any of its initiatives, visit our webpage at https://www.mamh.org/education/oabhn or contact Cassie Cramer at: cassiecramer@mamh.org.

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