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February 8th, 2016

Family and Medical Leave Act

In 1993, President Clinton signed into law the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a law tied to more than 200 million women and men who have taken the time they need to tend to loved ones or manage their own health concerns without the fear and worry of possibly losing their jobs. This has been especially valuable for Hispanic families. While the Department of Labor reports that the Hispanic women’s share of the labor force has doubled over the last 20 years, the National Hispanic Council on Aging has found that concurrently the average Hispanic caregiver—a female in her 40s—will spend 37 hours providing assistance to an older adult on a weekly basis. Hispanic caregivers face challenges that are not faced by the general population, including dedicating more time and energy to helping older adults with everyday activities to maintain comfortable lives in an environment that is oftentimes intimidating and difficult to navigate due to language barriers, cultural differences, and a lack of appropriate resources to which to turn in times of need.

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 As Dr. Yanira Cruz, President & CEO of NHCOA stated, “Living longer is a gift, but with it comes concerns, not just about health, such as chronic illnesses like diabetes and heart disease, but also about rising health care costs. Many of these issues have Hispanic families turning to each other even more for physical, emotional and financial support.” Hispanic caregivers are the backbone of the Hispanic aging community.  Many Hispanic older adults are dependent, in one way or another, on the assistance from a caregiver, to maintain a dignified quality of life in their golden years. The signing of the Family and Medical Leave Act was a safety net for Hispanic caregivers who needed time off from work to care for older adults who had fallen ill, support their family members recovering from serious health conditions and medical procedures, and even care for themselves.

 The Family and Medical Leave Act continues to be an essential resource for Hispanic families. Research conducted by Brandeis University reveals that there is still progress that needs to be made in terms of access that Hispanic working families have to the FMLA. According to the university’s data, 52 percent of Hispanic working parents born in the U.S. have access to benefits of the act, whereas only 27 percent of foreign-born Hispanic working parents are eligible. This disparity between foreign and U.S.-born employees calls for increased action for inclusivity, which is something that should be explored further by assessing FMLA eligibility criteria that requires workers be employed at a firm with at least 50 employees, have worked at least 12 months at that firm, and have also worked at least 1,250 hours in the past 12 months at the firm. We need to make sure we are supporting our working caregivers and family members who have dedicated so many hours to provide the assistance, care, and comfort that older adults need to live their best lives.


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December 4, 2015

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Let’s talk about Sick Leave

This past Thursday, I had the great pleasure of attending the Family Values @ Work annual convening at the Ford Foundation in New York City. It’s always great to hear the voices of those who share the goal of protecting the rights of working families. The auditorium was bursting with supporters and advocates for paid leave and paid sick leave—two issues that the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) has supported and will continue to work towards for families across our nation.

For many of these hard-working employees, paid leave and paid sick leave would mean the world for them and their loved ones. Oftentimes, these individuals serve as caregivers for older adults in their families—providing them with the comfort of a home and care that they need as they grow older. The responsibilities that come with being a caregiver may sometimes call for individuals to take off from work to end to their elderly family members and loved ones which may result in additional financial stress and difficulties if employers do not allow for policies like paid leave and paid sick leave. In some cases, the absence of paid sick leave and paid leave policies could mean life or death.

We need to make paid sick leave and paid leave the new normal, not only to facilitate the care of our older adults, but for the security and well-being of those who work full time jobs yet still find time at the end of their day to care for older adults that need extra assistance as well. Paid sick leave and paid leave would allow employees to be great parents to their kids while also being great children to their parents. These policies would give back to the working families who have tirelessly served and built upon the foundation of our country while upholding standards of family-friendly workplaces to carry on for future generations—shaping a workforce culture of fair treatment for everyone.

Warm Regards,

Yanira Cruz


December 4th, 2015

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Reimagine the social contract in America: caring for our loved ones

By Yanira Cruz

This past Thursday, I had the great pleasure of attending the Family Values @ Work annual convening at the Ford Foundation in New York City. It is always great to hear the voices of those who share the goal of protecting the rights of working families. The auditorium was bursting with supporters and advocates for #paidleave and #paidsickleave—two issues that the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) has supported and will continue to work towards for families across our nation.

For many of these hard-working employees, paid leave and paid sick leave would mean the world for them and their loved ones. Oftentimes, these individuals serve as caregivers for older adults in their families—providing them with the comfort of a home and care that they need as they grow older. The responsibilities that come with being a caregiver may sometimes call for individuals to take off from work to attend to their elderly family members and loved ones, which may result in additional financial stress and difficulties if employers do not allow for policies like paid leave and paid sick leave. In some cases, the absence of paid sick leave and paid leave policies could mean life or death.

We need to make paid sick leave and paid leave the new normal, not only to facilitate the care of our older adults, but for the security and well-being of those who work fulltime jobs yet still find time at the end of their day to care for older adults that need extra assistance as well. Paid sick leave and paid leave would allow employees to be great parents to their kids while also being great children to their parents. These policies would give back to the working families who have tirelessly served and built upon the foundation of our country while upholding standards of family-friendly workplaces to carry on for future generations—shaping a workforce culture of fair treatment for everyone.



December 1st, 2015

NHCOA Encourages Everyone to “Focus, Partner, and Achieve” AIDS-Free Generation on World AIDS Day 

Each year,  World AIDS Day  is observed on December 1 to unite the world in the fight against HIV/AIDS, show support for those living with HIV/AIDS and commemorate those who have lost the battle to AIDS.

NHCOA encourages all of our partners and leaders, Hispanic older adults, family members and caregivers to use World AIDS Day as a platform to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in their communities and around the world.

More than 25 million people have died of AIDS  worldwide, but today more and more people are able to manage HIV/AIDS as a chronic disease.

While unprecedented advances in medical treatment have been made, there is still much work to be done to achieve an AIDS-free generation. More than one million people in the U.S. are living with HIV, and Hispanics continue to be disproportionately affected.

HIV/AIDS doesn’t only affect the health of those infected with the disease- it impacts families, communities and the development and economic growth of nations. Many of the countries hardest hit by HIV also suffer from other infectious diseases, food insecurity and other serious issues.

This is why we must not limit talking about HIV/AIDS to World AIDS Day or other HIV/AIDS commemorative dates.

As a valued member of the NHCOA familia, we ask that you take action on December 1, whether it be starting a conversation with a loved one, attending a local World AIDS Day event or sharing information with your social media networks.

We must work together to act against AIDS if we want to achieve the goal of an AIDS-free generation.

Help us start One Conversation at a Time by sharing the banners below with your friends and family in your social media.

CDC One Conversation at a Time Campaign web banner. Image of a middle aged Latina and a speech bubble with a message about the importance of having HIV conversations

CDC One Conversation at a Time Campaign web banner. Image of two young Latinos, a boy and a girl, and two speech bubbles, each with a message about the importance of having HIV conversations.



December 1st, 2015

The Beginning of Healthy Aging

Older adults in the U.S. face many challenges to healthy aging, including getting adequate nutrition and exercise.  Today, over 13% of the total population in the United States is 65 years and older.  Older adults in the U.S. have the greatest limitations of any group in terms of exercise and are at higher risk of malnutrition and undernourishment. Hispanic older adults face even greater challenges than the larger older adult population in terms of fitness and nutrition.  They often live in communities that do not have spaces fit to exercise in and have lower fixed monthly incomes than the larger population.  Moreover, Hispanic older adults are the fastest growing demographic in the older adult population.

DSC_0483Efforts to address many of these challenges include age-appropriate exercise and preparation of healthy, balanced foods. The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) partnered with AARP to develop a curriculum to address these issues. The curriculum is intended to be a guide for trainers to provide ways for Hispanic older adults to keep fit and maintain proper nutrition.  Topics of the curriculum include sensible spending, eating healthy on a controlled budget by maximizing the nutritional value of foods purchased and minimizing waste and loss from perishable food and items of lower nutritional value. Specifically, the curriculum addresses the following:

  • Physical activities and exercises are critical to healthy aging of older adults. Exercise maintains and improves physical strength and fitness, helping older adults to carry out activities of daily living and improve their balance.  It is also important in the prevention and self-management of chronic diseases like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, degenerative joint disease and osteoporosis. The curriculum describes explains different types of exercises and gives some examples of exercises that are appropriate for older adults.  It also provides guidelines and tips for older adults.
  • Maintaining adequate nutrition is essential to healthy aging. The curriculum guides Hispanic older adults through the basics of nutrition, including food groups and needed calorie intake.  In addition, the curriculum provides healthy culturally –appropriate recipes for Hispanics.
  • In the U.S., 9.3 million adults face hunger on a regular basis. This is a shocking statistic, but one that can be addressed through awareness.  Many older adults facing hunger do not know what resources are available for them so that they can access nutritious meals and food every day. This section of the curriculum creates awareness of this issue and how people can get involved to minimize this reality.
  • Wellness is the state or condition of being in good physical and mental health. Physical activities, well-balanced nutrition and periodic rest and relaxation are essential elements of a healthy lifestyle. Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. This section of the curriculum talks about the importance of a good physical and mental health and how to achieve it.

 Get involved and volunteer!



November 19th, 2015

Hispanic Older Adults Face Food Insecurity and Hunger at Unacceptable Levels

An older adult at the National Hispanic Council on Aging’s (NHCOA’s) community forum in Miami was frustrated at the difficulty of her life and those of peers. “Why,” she exclaimed, “in the richest country in the world can we not eat three meals a day?” It was a direct statement of the plight of Hispanic older adults that NHCOA heard over and over again as the organization spoke with seniors and their caregivers across the country. Hispanic seniors, they heard, were simply not able to make ends meet. Their low fixed incomes simply did not cover the monthly expenses of rent, food and medical needs. Seniors were deferring medications to cover meals and not eating meals to cover medications. They were going through trash bins. They were eating cat food. They were hungry and malnourished and they were in desperate straits.

NHCOA_Thur-137The national statistics bear out these stories from the field. Hispanics face the highest level of food insecurity and hunger of any group in the nation. Almost one-quarter (23.7%) of Hispanic households face food insecurity, with 6.7% of these households facing very high food insecurity which is defined as when at least one member of the household’s eating is disrupted. More specifically, 18% of Hispanic older adults nationwide are food insecure.

The implications of food insecurity and hunger among vulnerable groups in a population (such as seniors) are severe. In the case of older adults, those who are food insecure are at increased risk for chronic health conditions, even when the data are controlled for other factors. For example, 60% of food-insecure seniors are at greater risk for depression and 53% are at greater risk of a heart attack. Food-insecure seniors are also 52% more likely to develop asthma and 40% more likely to report an episode stemming from congestive heart failure.

The U.S. has a number of safety net programs to help those facing food insecurity and hunger. The most prominent of these is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamps and senior center food programs. Diverse older adults, including Hispanic seniors, often find it difficult to access these programs because of deep linguistic and cultural disconnects with service providers. Hispanic older adults often find it extremely difficult to apply for, and navigate, programs for which they are eligible because of linguistic and cultural gaps and low levels of formal education, making it necessary for service providers to assist them step-by-step in a culturally and linguistically appropriate manner.

NHCOA172NHCOA recommends a number of measures to bridge these cultural gaps. The first of these is ensuring that the federal standards for linguistic competency are followed among service providers in federal programs. The second recommendation is a broad effort to educate diverse seniors nationwide about the programs, which can alleviate food insecurity and hunger. The third is one that is almost universally recommended by Hispanic older adults in communities nationwide. This is job and small business management training for Hispanic seniors who are able to work so that they can enter the workforce as a way to supplement their income and make ends meet. Finally, Hispanic seniors nationwide also recommended personal financial management training for younger generations so that they would enter retirement with savings and sufficient retirement funds to ensure that they could live in security.

Senior food insecurity and hunger is a serious problem nationwide, but it is especially severe among diverse seniors, including Hispanics. Our seniors have spent their lives working to support their families, communities and nation. They deserve to enjoy their golden years free of hunger and food insecurity. Together, we can ensure that programs designed to alleviate hunger and food insecurity better serve our nation’s diverse seniors, by providing them access to benefits for which they are eligible

The 2015 State of Hispanic Older Adults: Recommendations from the Field report was possible thanks to the support of Abbott, AbbVie, Aetna Foundation, Anthem, AstraZeneca, DHHS Office of Minority Health, John A. Hartford Foundation, Lilly, Pfizer, PhRMA, Univision, Verizon, and Walmart.

 

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.

– See more at: http://www.diverseelders.org/2015/11/19/hispanic-older-adults-face-food-insecurity-and-hunger-at-unacceptable-levels/#sthash.wOlUM9EF.dpuf



October 19th, 2015

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Mobile Technology

A couple of decades ago, none of us could have predicted the countless opportunities and innovations that mobile technology has made possible.  Mobile technology transforms the lives and delivers more possibilities for better health, wellness, and quality of life, for millions of seniors across the country.

For example, wearable wirelesses such as biosensors offer solutions, especially for those with mobility challenges.  These small sensors can predict falls and make it easy to locate someone in an urgent situation.  Other mobile technologies include smart pill bottles, which can solve the very common problems of medication compliance by reminding patients to take their pills via text or using visual and auditory clues on mobile devices.

These types of mobile technologies among countless others create a significant challenge on the wireless networks that enable them to function. In the last decade, we have seen the consumer appetite for connected devices grow exponentially and estimates indicate it will continue to increase year over year. In fact, demand for mobile data will grow more than six-fold between 2014 and 2019.

This exponential growth in consumer demand for mobile technology places a significant strain on the invisible infrastructure that fuels mobile technology – spectrum. A sustainable supply of spectrum is necessary to not only protect the current communication tools often used by the senior population, but also to allow for further innovation and opportunities.

Thankfully, Congress is starting to focus on this pressing issue having held two hearings last week, Removing Barriers to Wireless Broadband Deployment” and “Improving Federal Spectrum Systems.”

We applaud Congress for recognizing the importance of this issue and working to ensure consumers – especially the senior community – have access to the latest and most innovative mobile technology in the future.  We are hopeful that Congress can work together to solve this important issue.


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NHCOA Responds to the 2015 White House Conference on Aging
August 17th, 2015

The White House Conference on Aging, which took place on July 13th, was inspiring for us at the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) and for all those working on behalf of the U.S.’s diverse aging communities.  As the President and CEO of NHCOA, I had the honor and privilege to be invited to attend this critically important event and to represent older Latinos.

The White House Conference on Aging takes place every 10 years and is a catalyst for the national policy agenda in reference to aging for the next decade.  This year, the White House Conference on Aging was particularly historic because it concurred with the 50th anniversary of Medicare, Medicaid and the Older Americans Act, as well as the 80th anniversary of Social Security and the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The conference opened with Valerie Jarret, Senior Advisor and Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Affairs and Public Engagement, who provided the welcoming remarks. President Barack Obama attended personally and demonstrated his commitment to the nation’s aging population.   A key comment made by the President, which is especially inspiring to our community was the following:

“We have to ensure that every older American has the resources and the support they need to strive”

President Barack Obama

This statement was especially poignant for me because it demonstrated that the President of the U.S. was conscious of, and concerned about, the difficult realities faced by the nation’s elders. He also expressed his support for better working environment and pay conditions for home health care workers.  This is an area of great concern to NHCOA, which works in the partnership with the Ford Foundation to promote a healthy, positive, and fair job environment for workers.  Following are some additional highlights from the Conference.

Panels focusing on caregiving and economic planning focused on two critically important issues for the nation’s aging population.  Themes from these panels included the importance of providing support to the nation’s caregivers and making retirement planning education and opportunities available and accessible to diverse communities.

Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Tom Vilsack addressed nutrition and hunger. Hunger is a key concern because many older adults are going to bed hungry.  A key takeaway from his presentation is that it is important to focus on intergenerational work to achieve healthy aging.

Kathy Greenlee from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services moderated a panel about Elder Justice in the Twenty-First Century. The panel focused on elder fraud and abuse and what is being done to address this issue. Programs and lessons learned were highlighted during the presentation, as well as our nation’s readiness to address this issue into the 21st Century as America’s population ages.

Another topic addressed during the conference was the great influence of technology on society, both positively and negatively. For example: Uber is a technological advancement that can provide transport to people who do not have access to a car or are unable to drive, making it possible for them to find affordable and convenient transportation.

U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Tom Perez made closing remarks, inspiring us to remain actively engaged to address key civil rights issues impacting older adults.

Much of the 2015 White House Conference on Aging was on point and addressed most of the important issues faced by older Americans.  Unfortunately, it did fail to touch on a few critically important topics, including a lack of access to affordable, quality housing.  In addition, the plight of low income seniors was not a prevalent focus of the Conference.

As a nation, we still have a long way to go to ensure that all older adults regardless of race and sexual orientation age with dignity, but we must press forward.  As the President said, “A country is judged by the way it treats and cares for its elders.” NHCOA and I are dedicated to ensuring that our Nation’s Hispanic older adults, their families and caregivers and, indeed all American seniors, can enjoy our elder’s golden years in security, dignity and the best possible health.   The White House Conference on Aging demonstrated a national commitment to the same goal, which we can achieve together.


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STD Prevention
July 30th, 2015

Do I need to practice safe sex, even though that I am older? Yes! People of all ages should know how to practice safe sex. Why? Any person that is in an intimate relationship is at risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Sexually transmitted diseases are infections transmitted through sexual contact, and are caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites. Some common STDs are:

  • Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
  • Chlamydia
  • Gonorrhea
  • Hepatitis B, C
  • Herpes
  • HIV/AIDS

Of all STDs, HIV is of particular concern because it can be fatal if left untreated. Approximately one-fifth of people living with HIV/AIDS are older adults. Thousands of older adults get HIV every year. You may ask yourself how is that possible? Well let’s use some examples to illustrate common cases.

First example, a 55 year man that has been in a monogamous relationship most of his life, and then he becomes a widow or gets divorced. After a while, he finds a new romantic interest and starts a new sexual relationship with a new partner and doesn’t use condoms. Then he is unexpectedly diagnosed with HIV.

Second example, a postmenopausal woman just started a new sexual relationship, and she feels that she doesn’t need to use condoms because at this point in her life she can’t get pregnant and her partner is a “nice person”. Then, in one of the regular visits to her doctor she is told she is HIV positive.

As you can see, simple cases like these are some examples of how can you get HIV or any other type of STD.

How can I prevent STDs?

  • Use condoms consistently and correctly
  • Limit the number of people with whom you have sex
  • Limit or eliminate drug and alcohol use before and during sex because it may impair your judgement
  • Talk with your doctor and ask whether you should be tested for STDs and HIV and if you are a good candidate for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP).

Note that these are ways of preventing STDs but the only way to fully prevent getting an STD is abstinence.

Communication is part of the key, talk with your doctor about the risk and how to protect yourself. Also, talk with your partner to know more about their sexual history. Remember that you are never too old to be at risk of an STD.


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Celebrating 50 Years of Medicare with 50 Highlights from the Past
July 28th, 2015

On July 30th 1965, the health care landscape was forever changed for Hispanic older adults. Medicare was signed into law, providing access to guaranteed health benefits for Hispanic aging. Now in its 50th year, Medicare is credited with lifting millions of Hispanic seniors from poverty by ensuring access to health care for those who would otherwise lack coverage. Today, 8% of Medicare beneficiaries are Hispanic but also 70% of Hispanic Medicare beneficiaries have annual incomes. below 200% of the federal poverty line.

Over the last five decades, Medicare has established itself as the gold standard for coverage, quality, and innovation in American health care. While the program’s successes are undeniable, challenges remain. Most Hispanic older adults with Medicare live on very low and modest incomes. Also, 30.7% of Hispanic older adults lack health insurance, and many spend decades waiting to become eligible for Medicare. Half of all Medicare beneficiaries have annual incomes of $24,000 or less. Despite their low incomes, people with Medicare spend a significant amount on health care. On average, Medicare Hispanic households spend nearly 14 percent of their annual income on health care costs, compared to about 5 percent among non-Medicare Hispanic households. Health care spending increases among those in poorer health and with advancing age, and spending as a share of income is greater among those with lower incomes.

While this landmark anniversary represents an important opportunity to celebrate the remarkable successes of the Medicare program, it also provides a chance to identify ways to make Medicare even better for Hispanic older adults over the next 50 years. Looking ahead is the cornerstone of our latest online campaign, “50 Years: 50 Highlights from Medicare’s Past.” We are counting down to Medicare’s historic 50th anniversary by publishing a timeline with Medicare’s highlights over the past 50 years. Some highlights involve big changes, while others target small improvements.

Thinking ahead to the next 50 years, it is critically important for lawmakers to advance global changes to modernize benefits in both Original Medicare and private Medicare health plans. But it is equally important for policymakers to press forward on seemingly small fixes to improve how Medicare Hispanic beneficiaries navigate their coverage day-to-day. With this in mind, our top 10 highlights cover the waterfront, including filling long-standing benefit gaps for dental, hearing, vision, and long-term services; strengthening notice and education for people new to Medicare; and improving overall affordability.


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