Active Retirement Ireland Policy & Programmes Manager Alison Bough recently attended the Health and Community Care Ireland (HCCI) annual conference where Irish and international thought leaders discussed critical strategies around ageing.

A highlight of the conference was Alison’s insightful conversation with Lorraine Cortés-Vázquez, the Commissioner of New York’s Department for the Ageing, alongside Irish Minister of State for Older People Mary Butler TD.

Commissioner Cortés-Vázquez spoke about the innovative concept of establishing a ‘cabinet’ of State agencies, drawing inspiration from the successful model in New York. This approach aims to coordinate cross-departmental services for older citizens and combat ageism.

The New York cabinet comprises members from 23 agencies, covering vital areas such as public safety, housing, transportation, health, and social services. Their collaboration focuses on eliminating age-related barriers and inequities, while ensuring that all city initiatives are reviewed to be age-inclusive and accessible to adults over 60. New York’s initiatives have proven successful, with the city now home to a significant population of individuals aged 60 and over. Efforts to expand ageing services, additional centres for older adults, and more retirement communities have all contributed to this success.

This model shares a number of parallels with what Active Retirement Ireland (ARI) and our partners in the Alliance of Age Sector NGOs have long advocated for and continue to actively lobby Minister Butler and the Irish government to implement: an Independent Commissioner for Older People in Ireland. ARI remains committed to this cause, driven by the belief that such a commissioner would be instrumental in addressing the unique needs of older people in our society.

When asked about the possibility of appointing an independent commissioner for Ireland, Minister Butler articulated her plan to present legislation for a statutory home care scheme to the Dáil in early 2024. When pressed on the matter, Minister Butler underscored that the appointment of a commissioner is a matter for the Oireachtas.

Representing our members, Alison raised a discussion point with the panel around the need for the Irish government and society to move away from a strictly medical model of ageing. Commissioner Cortés-Vázquez was in full agreement and emphasised the global shift towards an ageing population, stating the urgency for cities worldwide to adapt and provide comprehensive support for older citizens across all areas. She highlighted New York’s efforts in adjusting programmes and services during the pandemic, breaking down silos and expanding services to build a more inclusive city for the future.

In addition, the conference highlighted critical areas of concern, including in-home support and housing for older individuals, echoing the challenges to ‘ageing in place’ faced not just in New York but also in Dublin. The importance of incentivising adjustments, such as home-sharing and zoning law changes, was emphasised to enable independent living within the family home.

The conference also touched upon initiatives to improve road safety for older citizens, acknowledging their vulnerability to traffic accidents. Additionally, the appointment of older-adult liaison officers in every police precinct in New York aims to address crime issues affecting older people.

Joseph Musgrave, CEO of HCCI, delivered a powerful message at the close of the conference, urging a re-evaluation of how ageing and care for older people are perceived. He emphasised the need for a statutory home care scheme, advocating for legal access to home care services for all who require it.

These discussions underscore the importance of adopting forward-thinking strategies and policies to support older citizens in our communities. We look forward to incorporating these insights into our advocacy efforts at Active Retirement Ireland.

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