Church, society need new perspective on aging, advocate says
June 6, 2005
A UMC.org Feature
By Neill Caldwell*
was on a youth retreat that 16-year-old Larry Minnix felt the call to
ministry—a ministry that led him to dedicate three decades to serving
and advocating for America's oldest citizens.
is what I'm supposed to be doing," says Minnix, now 58 and chief
executive officer of the American Association of Homes and Services for
the Aging in Washington.
having a positive impact on Congress and the (Bush) administration.
There is still lots of work in front of us as our old system of care and
services is starting to break down. We're putting new wine in old
wineskins that are starting to crack."
is an ordained United Methodist pastor who has been leading the
association for four years. Previously, he directed Wesley Woods, a
large Atlanta retirement community formed in 1954 by leaders of the
United Methodist Church's North Georgia Annual (regional) Conference and
Emory University.Wesley Woods is now a component of Emory Healthcare,
and Minnix helped found a geriatric hospital on campus during his 28
Lindsey Davis of the North Georgia Conference praises Minnix for always
approaching his work with "the heart of a pastor."
Weber, chief executive officer of Wesley Woods, says Minnix is highly
respected by his peers. "He has a strong ability to look at the large
picture and to determine strategies for services for our adults, and to
pull organizations together," Weber says.
the association, Minnix is providing the kind of senior advocacy for
the nation that he provided in Atlanta for nearly three decades. He
works closely with members of Congress and the White House to provide
education and resources.
association represents more than 5,600 nonprofit nursing homes,
retirement communities, assisted living and senior housing facilities,
and community service organizations. Its members serve more than 1
million older Americans.
discrimination is a huge problem in the United States, Minnix says. The
nation's older citizens are undervalued, and its way of caring for them
is in dire need of reform, he says.
of the problem, he says, is that the culture's perception of its aged
population is "based on the incorrect assumption that life is on the
rise until the mid-30s or mid-40s, and then starts to decline. Every
stage of life has its unique purposes, and we're uniquely gifted to
carry them out. Look at Abraham and Sarah. The religious community needs
to address this. It's still an issue we don't want to talk about."
challenge for the United States is to reinvigorate a system that
already has many of the necessary tools in place. "In almost every
community in the country we have the elements of the 'Great
Society'—acute care, help for the poor, Meals on Wheels, hospice—but
none work well together," he says. "Some are over-funded, some are
under-funded. Rules conflict or are interpreted in different ways in
different parts of the country. It's too complicated. This is where we
need political vision in Washington."
sees Medicare as a solid program that needs a housing component.
Medicaid, on the other hand, is a system of fragmented services that are
inconsistently funded. "We need to step back and look at Medicaid," he
says. "It should be a safety net for the … most poor, with standardized
basic care rather than minimum standards. It should not be an estate
backs the Bush administration's efforts to adjust Social Security to
"avoid big problems later." However, he calls putting Social Security
savings onto the individual "a huge shift that would change important
dynamics in the system."
need some incentive to plan for their financial future and their
long-term health care," he says. "If people are incapable of doing that,
then society is responsible, and that's something that is very
Methodist. It's all about the social ministry of the church and the
theological idea of why we do what we do. Evangelism is to proclaim
salvation, and salvation at its heart is health and healing. Jesus was a
healer who started a social movement. He said, 'If you do it to the
least of these…' That's the example we're supposed to follow."
favors expanding faith-based initiatives to tap into the wealth of
resources and the sprawling network of faith communities throughout the
church, the synagogue and the mosque are the most accessible, least
expensive, more caring places we have available to us," he says. "We
need the religious community to take a long look at aging issues and to
offer service delivery like adult day care, support groups, honoring
seniors as role models. Many of the things done at the doctor's office
can be done at the church instead. The government is not going to solve
all our problems."
can individuals help? Minnix calls on church members to volunteer,
contribute money and put aging issues at the heart of worship.
it comes to human need, there is no political spin," he says.
"Conservative or liberal, things like Alzheimer's disease or Lou
Gehrig's disease don't pay any attention to where you fall in the
*Caldwell is a freelance writer based in High Point, N.C.
News media contact: Matt Carlisle, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5153 or email@example.com.
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