From the Director

Dismantling 'service silos'

DHHS Combines Aging and Disability Agencies

By Scott Miyake Geron

ScottOn April 16th, Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the creation of the "Administration for Community Living" within the Department of Health and Human Services. The newly formed agency will bring together the Administration on Aging, the Office on Disability, and the Administration on Developmental Disabilities into a single entity, which Sebelius said is designed to improve the range of supports and services that adults of any age may need in order to live as full members of the community.

This consolidation is expected to benefit two constituencies—adults age 65 and older, and people of any age with developmental or other disabilities—both of whom face similar challenges living in the community and have similar needs for healthcare and social supports and services. The two groups have heretofore fallen under the wing of separate government agencies, reflecting the traditional "service silo" approach of our service system. There can be no doubt that the combined agency will have greater opportunities to strengthen community-based services and make them more widely available to all. The challenge will be to continue to meld the two separate sets of policies and philosophies that have evolved—an effort that has been under way for the past few years.

For those who worry that the reorganization may mean that resources for aging programs will be diverted, that doesn't appear to be the case. The new website of the Administration for Community Living expressly states that existing programs intended to serve older Americans together with people with disabilities will benefit from this integration, while initiatives designed to meet the unique needs of either group will retain their distinct programs, and current funding levels for aging services will be maintained. Kathy Greenlee, the current Assistant Secretary for Aging, will also serve as the head of the Administration for Community Living, and Henry Claypool, currently the director of the Office on Disability, will become the new agency's principal deputy administrator.

The Administration for Community Living will bear close watching as the many implications of this new agency unfold—for the health- and long-term-care system and its workforce as well as for the people they serve.

Scott Miyake Geron, Ph.D., is director of IGSW and an associate professor in the School of Social Work at Boston University.

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Copyright © 2012 Trustees of Boston University. All rights reserved. This article may not be duplicated or distributed in any form without written permission from the publisher: The Institute for Geriatric Social Work, Boston University School of Social Work, 264 Bay State Road, Boston, MA 02215, U.S.A.; e-mail: igsw@bu.edu.