A senior moment: Nation’s top official for elder affairs tours Council on Aging

Assistant Secretary for Aging Lance Robertson, left, talks during a roundtable discussion at the Osceola Council on Aging on Wednesday.

The federal government’s top official for elder affairs toured the Osceola Council on Aging office Wednesday.

One of his main messages: “Be smart in how you advocate.”

“I do all I can to help influence the conversation, but your voices are more powerful than mine,” said Assistant Secretary for Aging Lance Robertson, who heads the Administration for Community Living. “If you don’t have a relationship with your local and your state and your federally elected officials, I would hope you just reach out. Sometimes it’s a simple as an email or a phone call,” he told the council’s senior leadership.

It’s not about “hammering” politicians with demands, he said, but rather making them understand the importance of work for the elderly.

“Do they really know and appreciate impact of the work you do each day? Do they understand the value,” he said.

Robertson said one of his top priorities was shifting more federal funding toward services versus research.

“We have people today who need help,” he said.

His message was music to the ears of the Council on Aging staff.

“It means a lot to us that you guys recognize the efforts we put into the community,” said Executive Director Wendy Ford. “Most employees have been at the council for more than a decade and many for longer. It’s definitely a mission we hold close.”

Carmen Carrasquillo, vice president of operations and community relations at the Council on Aging, agreed.

“It’s not about the money for us. We have a passion for what we do, for helping others, for helping seniors who are lonely,” she said. “They have nobody sometimes. We’re the only family they have, so when they’re here, we want them to be happy. We want them to have a great day. That’s why we’re here.”

The council cooks and delivers more than 500 Meals on Wheels everyday. It also prepares another 500 meals everyday for low-income seniors who attend day programs at its Kissimmee headquarters and other congregate sites throughout the county.

The Osceola Council on Aging is one of 22,000 aging and disability providers in the U.S. served by Robertson’s office and its $2 billion budget.

He said increasing the business acumen of those sites would help bring in more federal dollars for senior programming and services, some of which are now becoming available through Medicare.

“We have to make sure our numbers are clean. You got to do all the good admin stuff,” he said.

The better we can do, the stronger I can sell the network and that’s the top priority now, selling the network.”

One of Florida’s biggest challenges when it comes to senior care is sheer numbers.

The Sunshine State has more seniors than 18 other states combined, Robertson said.

“Five thousand people move to Florida everyday and half of those are seniors,” he said.

One of Florida’s strengths is innovation in funding, such

“Some of the best examples of getting services delivered have been coming out of Florida,” he said. “I don’t lose an ounce of sleep at night because in the work that we do, we make a difference.”