Senior Scene

By Paul V. Palange

First impressions are frequently accurate, and if that is the case when it comes to a recent telephone interview I conducted, then Gov. Gina M. Raimondo and her team made a solid choice by selecting Rose Amoros Jones as director of the state Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA).

I talked to Jones soon after her appointment was announced, and the enthusiasm in the 41-year-old’s voice was off the charts as she talked about some of the objectives for her new role, which she was scheduled to start late last month.

One of her top priorities is reducing food insecurity among senior citizens. The only meal some seniors have each day is delivered by Meals on Wheels, Jones said. Common sense tells me that fails to meet any agency’s nutrition guidelines, which means there are many Ocean State seniors who are nutritionally compromised. What’s the result? My guess is a host of physical and cognitive health problems.

Another priority is expanding the eligibility for home and community care programs for people age 65 and older that are not eligible for Medicaid. Jones wants to see the income criteria increased from 200 percent to 250 percent above the federal poverty level – a change she termed critical to service more vulnerable seniors.

In addition, Jones wants to see reimbursement pay rates increased for direct support and home care professionals so there are enough trained and certified providers to staff agencies that care for seniors and persons with physical and developmental disabilities.

Furthermore, Jones is advocating for increased funding for transportation services that seniors and the disabled rely on to do errands and see doctors, dentists and other medical and personal care professionals.

Jones said Gov. Raimondo’s proposed fiscal 2020 budget addresses those priorities. Specifically, the spending package provides funding for transportation programs that serve older adults; expands home care and community care programs; and invests in the direct-support work force.

The budget also has provisions to make the DEA an independent office within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. Such autonomy, according to Jones and other officials, should increase the effectiveness of the division as well as its ability to respond to the needs of target populations.

Jones, who earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational communications from Providence College and a master of business administration degree in international relations from Salve Regina University in Newport, succeeds Charlie Fogarty, who retired as DEA director last year, and she said she will continue the momentum generated during his tenure.

In her announcement of Jones’ appointment, Raimondo said: “Rose has been a valued member of my team since day one. She’s led major efforts from launching Let’s Talk Mental Health to erase the stigma around mental illness and addiction to partnering with the community to improve supports for older Rhode Islanders. She’s emerged as a trusted advocate for our seniors and has continued to advance sound policies that move our state forward. Rose will lead DEA with distinction and care.”

Jones, a native Rhode Islander who lives in North Providence with her husband and four children, has more than 20 years of experience in policy development and public affairs and has served in key leadership roles within the Raimondo administration. She led the Division of Policy and Public Affairs at the Executive Office of Health and Human Services, where she helped shape the governor’s agenda for older adults and Rhode Islanders with disabilities.

In the announcement from the governor’s office about her appointment, Jones stated: “I’m honored Governor Raimondo has selected me to lead elderly affairs and advocate for older Rhode Islanders. Within the next decade, one in four Rhode Islanders will be 65 or older. Our elders, those who nurtured and provided for us, deserve an opportunity to age with dignity and to know their needs will be met. Under the governor’s leadership and with many partners, we continue to make important investments that benefit seniors, with an eye toward promoting choice and community. The work is not done. And I look forward to joining with my colleagues in government and our business and community partners to ensure Rhode Island is a great place to grow up and grow old.”

As Rhode Island’s designated state unit on aging, DEA provides an array of services and supports that help seniors and adults with disabilities thrive. Among the division’s offerings are home and community-care programs, adult protective services, the Aging & Disability Resource Center and the long-term care ombudsman.

Jones’ father was older when she was born, so she bonded with him and his buddies while they told stories and solved the problems of the world over coffee; she volunteered at long-term care facilities; and she gained familiarity with the direct services sector before her mom succumbed to breast cancer.

Those experiences contributed significantly to her decision to “raise” her hand to be selected as the person to “improve the system” for seniors and adults with disabilities.

“It’s important to me,” she said.

That’s a good start.