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SAMHSA News - November/December 2004, Volume 12, Number 6

Policy Academy Strives To Improve Services for Older Adults

With SAMHSA's help, the National Governors Association (NGA) recently sponsored a Policy Academy focused on improving services to older Americans—Rebalancing Long-Term Care Systems Toward Quality Community Living and Healthy Aging.

After a competitive application process, eight state teams came together in Denver to create plans for shifting their states' long-term care systems away from nursing homes and toward community-based services such as home health care, adult day care, and assisted living. SAMHSA, plus the Administration on Aging and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, helped fund and plan the project.

"Older adults are one of the focus areas on SAMHSA's Matrix of Priorities," explained Public Health Analyst Lisa J. Park, M.S.W., of SAMHSA's Office of Policy, Planning, and Budget. "We want to help older Americans receive mental health, substance abuse treatment, and other services in their own homes and communities."

More an ongoing process than a single event, the academy began with NGA helping participants prepare during visits to Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont, and Virginia. Meanwhile, SAMHSA and its two partners brought together other Federal Agencies to alert them to the effort.

Then state directors of health, aging, Medicaid, mental health, and substance abuse; governors' health policy advisors; legislators; advocates; and others came together to craft plans with help from faculty experts.

The Vermont team, for example, created a plan designed to prevent substance misuse and abuse, and mental disorders, while promoting healthy behaviors such as physical activity. This plan could help older adults avoid many problems, including placement in institutions.

Other states focused on using Medicaid waivers to provide home- and community-based services to specific populations, such as older people with mental illnesses. The teams are now receiving technical assistance from NGA and academy faculty, and have applied for small "seed money" grants to help them start putting their plans into action.

"This work is something SAMHSA would like to do with all the states. That's our hope," said Ms. Park.

For more information about SAMHSA's services for older adults, visit www.samhsa.gov.

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