By Emma Lamberton
The largest senior advocacy group in Vermont, the Vermont Association of Area Agencies on Aging, has hired a new director, Janet Hunt. In a time of transition for Vermont health care, Hunt’s legislative pushes come at a critical time, directing potential improvement in senior care.
“I was at the Burlington health care rally last week,” Hunt told Watchdog, “And there were plenty of older Vermonters in attendance. I’m happy to see that there are plenty of individual Vermonters who know their voices are important.”
Senior voters are the most involved age bracket for U.S. elections. With a turnout rate of 72 percent in the last general election, this age bracket is able to influence results beyond their comparatively low numbers to other age demographics. However, Vermont has the second oldest population of any state, making seniors even more of a factor in state policy.
Senior agencies have fought to have a voice in Vermont’s changing health care, including former Gov. Peter Shumlin’s all-payer model, which will eventually change the way Medicare funds are distributed.
Hunt, who has just stepped into her role, said it is too early to offer an official opinion on the all-payer model. However, Hunt did emphasize the importance of deinstitutionalization and home support services, two sentiments echoed by other senior advocates when discussing their perspectives on cost-saving initiatives of the all-payer.
Analysts say that over $1 trillion is wasted in our health care system, and that 45 percent of that waste is attributed to incorrect situation-based treatment. This includes unnecessary hospitalization or institutionalization. Hunt said this is one of her top priorities because it is important for seniors, as well as taxpayers, as home-based care can provide equal quality at reduced cost.
“Taking an individual from their home is detrimental to their physical and emotional wellbeing. It goes against my grain,” she said. “I’d like to see funding that treats hospitals, nursing facilities and community based services as equal partners in helping the older population.”
Hunt developed a passion for social services advocacy work when she worked with people who were institutionalized in New Hampshire’s Laconia State School. “To work with individuals is a powerful thing. I wanted to be a part of the social justice movement and get these people out of institutions. That’s what I did.”
Born and raised in New Hampshire, Hunt led a variety of human service organizations in the state, including Servicelink Aging and Disability Resource Center, of which she was director.
Hunt said that she views working with seniors as “about empowering individuals, and helping each citizen.”
She said that her legislative priorities this session include attaining additional funding for Meals on Wheels, saying that the nutrition assistance program’s current funding does not adequately support seniors living in their own homes. Beyond this program, she will begin advocating for broader support of home-based caregivers. In rural areas particularly, care givers are few-and-far between, and need all the help they can get.
Additionally, she is looking to expand the Veteran’s Directed Program. The program aims to support elderly veterans in the state, enabling them to stay in their homes. The program currently serves 65 veterans throughout the state, but she would like to see that number grow.
Hunt says that as Vermont health care continues to transition, particularly with a potential Affordable Care Act repeal, that it is more important than ever for seniors to speak out.
“It’s important that we advocate and talk to our legislators. If they can’t keep the ACA in place, they need a good alternative,” she said.