Sixth Annual Symposium Addresses Race and Age

The Ruth Frost Parker Center for Abundant Aging (RFPCAA) held its sixth annual Symposium, At the Intersection of Race and Age in the summer of 2021 in Columbus, Ohio.

More than 120 individuals attended in person and online to hear several accomplished speakers discuss issues brought to the forefront of our culture through COVID-19.

Rev. Beth Long-Higgins

The Symposium was designed to gather individuals from a variety of disciplines to explore themes or issues which affect how we age. The event is intended to encourage opportunities for dialogue between professionals in their fields of study as a way of learning. “It’s not often that clergy come together with administrators, nurses, social workers and older adults to the same conference, even though each of them serve the same population of people,” said Rev. Beth Long-Higgins, Executive Director for the RFPCAA.

Long-Higgins said when the advisory council planned the event more than a year ago, the country was in full swing of the pandemic which heightened ageism in our nation as the initial victims of the virus were older adults. Long-Higgins said the nation was experiencing public discourse about racism and people of color were also experiencing higher incidents of infection by COVID-19. “We were in a unique position to look at ways in which race and age intersect to challenge so many people.”

Long-Higgins said the event sparked thoughtful conversations around the disparities that exist for people of color and provided perspective on how those differences are a result of discrimination and inequities older people of color have experienced throughout their lives. “We need to understand some of the context to find ways to serve their unique needs,” she said.

Dr. Carl Hill, MPH
Dr. Jamie Mitchell

The two keynote speakers were Dr. Carl Hill, Chief Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer for the Alzheimer’s Association and Dr. Jamie Mitchell, Associate Professor, School of Social Work at The University of Michigan. Both were selected for their outstanding work and research related to the Symposium’s theme. Both Dr. Hill and Dr. Mitchell were presented the RFPCAA’s award for Significant Contributions to Abundant Aging. The event also featured sessions such as Pursuing Health Equity in Dementia, Communication in Advocating for Equity and Inclusion in Healthcare, and the Impact of COVID-19 on Ohio Nursing Homes and Culture.

Rev. Dr. Kenneth Daniel and Rev. Beth Long-Higgins presented the awards to Dr. Hill and Dr. Mitchell.

Long-Higgins said there were several takeaways from the event, including the importance of listening to the experiences of other people. “Dr. Hill talked about listening and the importance of cultural humility in research—we need to take into account lifestyles, morals, values and how the social groups they belong to have an effect on their health,” said Long-Higgins. She said, “Dr. Mitchell highlighted the need to listen first, before we research, recommend or suggest solutions to the challenges individuals face.”

In addition, Barb Powell, who covered the event for UCC CHHSM, reported in the September 7, 2021 issue of Diakonie several comments from presenters and attendees:

“The health care communication experience has been dismal for older adults of color,” said Mitchell. “Doctors tend to dominate conversations with African American patients, pay less attention to their needs, and make them feel less involved in making decisions about their health.”

“Providers want to provide good care, but if you’re not conscious of the systemic and institutional bias/racism, you don’t know that you are not providing care that isn’t as good,” Mitchell said. High quality, person-centered communication leads to a sense of shared understanding and power, shared responsibility within the medical visit interaction, and improved health care outcomes.
Long-Higgins said the event helped introduce some of the components of cultural humility that are needed when we try to advocate and serve older persons of color.

UCH Board Member Geoffrey Black, agreed. “To us [at United Church Homes], justice and inclusion are synonymous,” he said. “The symposium was grounded in the present. Our presenters were very informative about the present state of research on race and aging in health care … [but] they were also looking ahead and pointing out the kinds of change needed to serve the diverse population of the United States.”

The seventh annual Symposium will be held on September 30, 2022 and will focus on ethical challenges surrounding aging in the 21st century. Registration can be found on the RFPCAA web page leading up to the event.

This article includes excerpts from the September 2021 issue of CHHSM Diakonie, reprinted with permission of UCC Council for Health and Human Service Ministries.