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Students visit legislature to discuss policies affecting older adults

By Tiffany Washington

The Aging and Public Policy graduate students visited the General Assembly on April 29, 2013, for their “Policy Day” assignment. They met with legislators in the North Carolina House or Senate to discuss social issues and/or existing and proposed policies affecting older adults. Exposing the students to aging advocacy and providing training on advocacy activities was a priority this semester, and this visit was the culmination of this semester’s experiences.

This spring, the students were visited by experts in aging, discussed a variety of social issues affecting older adults, and analyzed policies relevant to their health and well-being. Earlier this semester, the students underwent “Aging Advocacy Bootcamp,” provided by Mary Bethel, associate state director for advocacy for AARP North Carolina.

The Aging and Public Policy course is the only approved policy course for the UNC Interdisciplinary Certificate in Aging. This Certificate is designed for graduate students enrolled at UNC or elsewhere, professionals with graduate level credentials or the equivalent, and faculty members interested in expanding their involvement in aging. It is a campus-wide interdisciplinary program drawing on the University’s rich set of resources to offer graduate students, community professionals, and faculty members gerontological knowledge essential for work in an aging society. School of Social Work faculty member Sheryl Zimmerman, Ph.D., is the director of the Certificate Program.

Lauren Pate, MSW ’13; Jie Yang, MSW ’13; and second-year Occupational Therapy student Gabrielle Scronce met with Deborah Holder, Representative Pat Hurley’s (R-Randolph) legislative assistant.

“She was talking about herself not wanting to go to a nursing home due to the maltreatment,” said Yang. “I just told her that similar with your concern of being maltreated, LGBT seniors face the same and yet more severe long-term care problems as they age. I felt that she was quite empathetic while I was talking. I told her that UNC CARES will roll out the first LGBT aging needs assessment in NC very soon.”

School of Social Work faculty member Dan Hudgins, senior policy analyst with the School of Social Work’s Center for Aging Research and Educational Services, joined the group on their visit.

To prepare for Policy Day, students did an assignment, such as writing a 2-page letter to their United States Congressional Representative on a current social issue affecting the aging population, to encourage their Representative to support a policy or program designed to address that issue.

This year’s class had 22 students from Occupational Therapy, Physical Therapy, Pharmacy and Social Work. Tiffany Washington taught the course. Washington, a School of Social Work doctoral candidate who defends her dissertation this summer, has accepted an assistant professor tenure-track position at the University of Georgia School of Social Work starting this fall. She plans to continue teaching aging courses and focus her research in the field of healthy aging.