By S.E. Williams, Staff Writer
“Our most cruel failure in how we treat [the aged] is the failure to recognize that they have priorities beyond merely being safe and living longer; that the chance to shape one’s story is essential to sustaining meaning in life; that we have the opportunity to refashion our institutions, our culture, and our conversations in ways that transform the possibilities for the last chapters in everyone’s lives.” –Atul Gawande
According to reports, 5.1 million persons age 65 and over are projected to call California home by the close of 2015. In addition, an aging Baby Boomer population coupled with current migration patterns will most probably grow that number to 8.4 million by the year 2030.
A recent report by the Senate Select Committee on Aging and Long Term Care, A Shattered System: Reforming Long-Term Care in California proclaimed, “Reliance upon our existing patchwork of programs and services to serve our growing aging and disabled population will result in unnecessary expenditures, inequitable access, and irrelevant services”.
There is no question that repairing such a shattered system requires commitment and a willingness to not only advocate, but lead the required change.
As a city commissioner, small business owner and community advocate, Cheryl Brown gained intimate knowledge of the constituent population she now serves as a member of the California State Assembly.
Decades of public service coupled with an increased recognition of the demographic reality of an aging population fueled a passion in Brown to work cooperatively and aggressively toward improving the range of services and quality of care available to the Inland Empire’s aging population.
As the elected representative of California’s 47th Assembly District, Brown’s legislative area includes the communities of Colton, Fontana, Grand Terrace, Rialto, San Bernardino and the unincorporated communities of Bloomington and Muscoy in San Bernardino County.
As a second term representative, Brown serves on several important, standing committees (permanent legislative panels with oversight responsibilities). They include Banking and Finance; Jobs, Economic Development and the Economy; and, Veterans Affairs. In addition, she also serves as either the chair or a member of several select committees (performs a special function beyond the authority or capacity of a standing committee).
Whether Brown is advocating on behalf of small businesses, navigating drought issues with particular emphasis on water; rallying legislative support for public health related concerns; or, lending her insight and political acumen to the alarming high school drop-out rate, Brown is recognized as a forerunner, an advocate, a champion of the communities she was elected to serve.
In the state capitol, one of the ways Brown has made her leadership most clearly apparent and her determination to make a difference highly impacting is through her tenacious advocacy on behalf of the elderly. That advocacy gained additional heft when Brown was appointed to the position of committee chair on Aging and Long-Term Care for the 2015-16 regular, legislation session.
Her jurisdiction in this capacity is broad. It includes oversight of area agencies on aging, the California Department of Aging, long-term support and services, Older Americans Act, Older Californians Act, senior citizen advocacy activities, the California Senior Legislature, services for seniors in residential and day settings, as well as the California Commission on Aging.
Without question, Brown sees her ability to address senior care issues as one of her greatest priorities. Her track record in this area speaks for itself. Included among her legislative victories to date are such notable accomplishments as AB 1899 which mandates any licensee found to have abandoned residents and their residential care facility be indefinitely prohibited from ever again being licensed by the California Department of Social Services to operate facilities in the state; AJR 29 which called on congress and the president of the United States to restore federal funding reduced by sequestration cuts to much needed senior nutrition programs and to exempt senior nutrition services and programs from future budget cuts.
Brown also fought valiantly for the passage of AB 1744. It would have required the California Department of Aging (CDA) to establish a blue ribbon task force committee on unpaid family care-giving and long-term care support services. The goal of the committee was to identify and compile an inventory of resources and programs available for family caregivers. Although the bill garnered ample legislative support it was ultimately vetoed by the Governor.
This year Brown is once again the leading advocate on legislation aimed to protect the elderly. Currently, there is no mandatory requirement for the Department of Social Services, Community Care Licensing (DSS/CCL) to refer elder neglect, abuse or other egregious behaviors against seniors residing in assisted living facilities to outside law enforcement. As a result, few crimes perpetrated against elders in licensed care facilities are ever prosecuted. Instead, through Administrative Law proceedings, DSS/ CCL can permanently or temporarily prohibit a person from working in a licensed care facility. Unfortunately, because the individual was never brought to justice through the criminal court system, the administrative sanction never appears in criminal background checks thus the individual retains unencumbered access to vulnerable seniors.
In late February, Brown introduced AB1122, the “Excluded Persons Administrative Action List,” or “EPAAL” legislation. The bill requires (DSS/ CCL) to publish on its website a list of all persons who have been excluded from owning, operating and/or working inside any licensed care facility as a result of an Administrative Law proceeding. AB 1122 is designed to provide convenient, online access to EPAAL. Such access will allow assisted living residents, consumers and service providers to assure the caregivers and staff they hire have no prior history of behaviors which endanger the health or safety of an elder.
Assembly Member Brown is also a key player in the Long-Term Care Reform Package currently working its way through the legislature. The package is broadly based on findings by the Senate Select Committee report on Aging and Long Term Care, A Shattered System: Reforming Long-Term Care in California. It contains a total of 24 bills, 12 in the Assembly and 12 in the Senate, collectively aimed at improving the state’s support network for aging services and long-term care. They deal with “a variety of issues involving some of the 112 separate programs for aging and long-term care overseen by 20 different agencies and departments in the state and county governments.”
The chair of the Senate Select Committee on Aging and Long Term Care with primary responsibility for shepherding the initiative through the legislative process called on Assembly Member Brown, respected for her advocacy and legislation in this area, to assess the package. In a published statement Brown declared, “Over the past decade, numerous reports, hearings and legislative proposals have highlighted the deficient, often duplicative and unsustainable characteristics of California’s fragmented approach to delivering long-term services. With roughly 1,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day for the next 14 years, further inaction will have negative economic and social consequences.”
Under Brown’s stewardship the Assembly Committee on Aging and Long Term Care, in partnership with the Senate Select Committee on Aging and Long-Term Care and the Senate Human Services Committee, is holding multiple, informational and oversight hearings to investigate the needs associated with financing long-term service.
During 2013-2014, Brown’s Assembly Committee on Aging and Long Term Care held a number of informational hearings that covered a variety of meaningful subjects important to aging individuals and their care takers.
However, Brown’s commitment to this demographic group does not end in the halls of the state’s capitol. Her community outreach efforts are rigorous. One example is a free Senior Scam Stopper Seminar hosted by Brown in Rialto last July where experts provided fraud prevention information relevant to home repair, telemarketing, unclaimed property, identity theft, mortgages and other valuable information.
Brown’s laser focus and demonstrated commitment to the growing population of seniors has not gone unnoticed by those she serves with such passion. In late February, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) presented Assembly Member Brown with The Capitol Caregiver Award. Brown’s words of acceptance aptly expressed her passion and commitment to this most vulnerable segment of society.
“This award is special to me because I am a caregiver and I understand the significance of this enormous responsibility, she said and continued, “It requires a lot dedication to the people who depend on us. I am truly grateful for this recognition and will continue to support the needs of caregivers across the state.”