By Michael O’Donnell
Illinois Coalition on Mental Health and Aging
Former Member of the NCMHA Executive Committee
Showing up and speaking out on behalf of older adults is at the heart of advocacy. It has been my privilege to testify before Members of Congress and the Illinois General Assembly during my career as Executive Director of the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging. Now as an older adult and retired professional, I continue to show up at meetings in my community and represent the needs of older adults. I currently serve as a member of the planning committee for the McLean County Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP).
The McLean CHIP provides an opportunity for professionals and lay advocates representing people of all ages to have a voice in improving the health of our community. The process is facilitated by leaders from the McLean County Health Department, Carle BroMenn Medical Center, OSF St. Joseph Medical Center, and Chestnut Family Health, a federally qualified health center. The CHIP Committee assesses the health status and emerging needs of the community, with special emphasis on populations in greatest need. The Committee prepares and implements a three-year plan which focuses on three priorities: access to healthcare, behavioral health, and healthy eating and active living.
For several years, I have served on two Priority Action Teams (PAT) to advance behavioral health and healthy eating and active living for older adults. The Behavioral Health PAT promotes Mental Health First Aid training for school personnel to reduce the rate of youth suicide. Today Mental Health First Aid training is also available to community organizations serving older adults. The Behavioral Health PAT also recognizes the vital role of the PEARLS counseling program, sponsored by Community Care Systems Case Management, in reducing symptoms of depression in older adults.
The Healthy Eating and Active Living (HEAL) Priority Action Team has improved access to affordable and nutritious food for people of all ages, with special emphasis on neighborhoods without food markets. The HEAL PAT has increased collaboration among food banks and food pantries and raised awareness about the impact of the Peace Meal Senior Nutrition Program on the health and well-being of older adults. The HEAL PAT also recognizes the role of evidence-based healthy-aging programs and reports the impact of programs, such as the Diabetes Self-Management Education and A Matter of Balance falls prevention for older adults.
One of the most rewarding aspects of serving as an aging advocate on the CHIP Committee is collaboration among professionals and advocates representing diverse populations. This provides opportunities to share information about programs, services, consumer education, and professional training. Recently, on behalf of National Council on Aging and the National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging, I invited members of the Behavioral Health PAT to participate in the Older Adult Mental Health Awareness Day Symposium on May 11, 2023.
I would encourage my colleagues in the field of aging to get involved in the Community Health Improvement Planning process as a means of advancing physical and behavioral health for people of all ages in your community. For more information, contact your local health department.
About the Author
Mike O’Donnell is retired Executive Director of the East Central Illinois Area Agency on Aging, member of the Board of Directors of the Illinois Coalition on Mental Health & Aging, ICMHA’s liaison to the National Coalition on Mental Health and Aging, President-Elect of Faith in Action of Bloomington-Normal, and Master Trainer for A Matter of Balance hosted by Community Care Systems Case Management in Bloomington, Illinois.