California’s Master Plan for Aging: Putting the Golden State’s Aging Population Front and Center

By Bruce Chernof, Shelley Lyford and Christopher Langston

On June 10, 2019, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued Executive Order N-14-19, calling for a California Master Plan for Aging (Master Plan). In his Ex­ecutive Order, Newsom outlines the broad framework for a Master Plan process, including state-level input, stakeholder engagement and a firm deadline of October 1, 2020, for completion.

The process is well underway, and voters—nearly half of whom are providing care, or have pro­vided care to an older adult or person with a disability—are READY. A survey —commissioned by the nonpartisan campaign We Stand With Se­niors and conducted in July showed that more than 75 percent of voters support Gov. Newsom’s Executive Order and will hold the state accountable. This crosses political parties and geographic regions, is nearly identical across all age groups and is high among those with differing ethnic backgrounds.

The significance of the Executive Order cannot be understated: at no time in the past has a Califor­nia governor committed leadership and resources to whole-scale systems planning to meet the needs of California’s aging population. As heads of three organizations that have steadfastly dedicated their time to educating California’s policymakers on the critical need for a Master Plan, we applaud Gov. Newsom for his visionary leadership and expedient, aggressive goals for creating and implementing a Master Plan. This marks a historic milestone on the road to overcoming system-related challenges facing older Californians and meeting their needs through a thoughtful, comprehensive and out­comes-oriented strategy.

While a major first step, the Master Plan is only one stride on the long path ahead. To succeed, California’s Master Plan must have a singular focus: to design systems to answer the needs and experiences of older adults and the families who stand by them, now and into the foreseeable fu­ture. A successful Master Plan will anticipate and respond to needs from a human perspective, engaging both public and private sectors in systems-based solutions that touch all major areas of life experience (e.g., health, human services, housing, transportation and more).

Instead of a traditional planning exercise that prioritizes the needs of a currently fragmented system, this Master Plan can reframe system organization, funding and service delivery, based on what matters most to the people the plan serves—placing older Californians, their families and their caregivers at its center.

Five Critical Elements of the Master Plan

The SCAN Foundation, West Health and Archstone Foundation uphold the following five elements as critical to the Master Plan’s suc­cess, ensuring that it fully reflects what matters most to older Californians and their families.

Older Adults Thriving = Health, Finances, Self-Worth, Environment and Community. Californians’ ability to thrive while aging with dignity and independence reflects the intersection of basic human needs, such as health (physical, psychological and social well-being); finances (fi­nancial well-being); self-worth (purpose and empowerment); environment (supportive services, housing, food and transportation); and community (family and friends).

A successful Master Plan will recognize the interdependence of these needs and develop ap­proaches that recognize and address all of them.

People First. Older adults should have access to systems that are responsive to the individual as a whole—not idiosyncratic system parts based on their funding source, the administering agency or the local oversight entity. A successful Master Plan will ensure that individuals can readily access the information and services they need, when they need them—regardless of eligibility dis­tinction, income level or place of residence.

Cross-Sector Collaboration. It is time for aging issues to be addressed outside the traditional spheres of health and human services, or as solely the responsibility of the state or public sector. Many state agencies—along with a wide range of private entities—contribute greatly to the experience of aging in California; these entities include housing, transportation, higher education and veterans affairs, among others.

All stakeholders need to be equally engaged, with strong leadership from the governor to en­sure a holistic solution to California’s infrastructure and care system challenges. A successful Mas­ter Plan will establish a framework that draws in new partners and spurs collaborative innovation across public, private and independent sectors. This will mean equal accountability for all entities to creatively and comprehensively address California’s aging population’s needs, through a sound financing structure, now and into the future.

Care Coordination. California’s system of care is frequently fragmented and poorly coordi­nated. All too often, health services are disconnected from equally important social support ser­vices; hospital-based care is detached from home­­care; and critical wellness needs such as oral health, behavioral care and nutrition fall through the cracks. Examples of systems we should look to as models for scaling include the following:

  • Age-friendly hospital emergency departments: Emergency departments designed for older adults’ needs conduct comprehensive health assessments with an interdisciplinary team and coor­dinate services for home- and community-based aftercare.
  • PACE (Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly): For low-income older adults, these programs are the gold standard of comprehensive, coordinated care for people who want to age in place in the communities they love. As we plan for the future of aging in California, we must keep care coordination at the front and center of our discussions.

Aging: It’s All of Us. Negative stereotypes and fears of aging have historically pushed aging is­sues into the background. This Master Plan has the potential to re-imagine aging—affecting how society thinks about, plans for and responds to the life changes that come with aging. The planning process should initiate a refreshed conversation about aging, as these issues are not limited to in­dividuals older than a certain age, but also affect young people, families and communities.

As Gov. Newsom noted, the Golden State is graying rapidly. All of us, young and old, share a stake in planning an age-friendly future. A Master Plan that enables older Californians to age well at home enriches all of our communities, and the lives of the diverse individuals who live in them.

The SCAN Foundation, West Health and Archstone Foundation stand ready to work with Gov. Newsom, his administration and the legislature, alongside leaders across public, private and phil­anthropic sectors to develop a Master Plan for Aging that will well serve Californians for genera­tions to come.

Bruce Chernof is president and CEO of The SCAN Foundation in Long Beach, Calif. Shelley Lyford is president and CEO of San Diego–based West Health and a commissioner on the California Com­mission on Aging. Christopher Langston is president and CEO of Archstone Foundation in Long Beach.