What’s in a name, anyway? The state legislature may establish a new California Department of Community Living. The proposed department, recommended by a coalition of legislators of a half-dozen senators and assemblymembers, would be housed within the Health and Human Services Agency and would, in collaboration with other agencies and departments with relevant responsibilities, “develop a state Long-term Care Plan to guide priorities and implementation of aging and long-term care investments, policies and programs statewide.”
Taken at face value, reorganization/consolidation within government is always a welcome objective. The new department is among dozens of recommendations outlined in the legislators’ report, A Shattered System: Reforming Long-term Care in California. Envisioning and Implementing an IDEAL Long-term Care System in California.
Of course the report’s long-winded title does beg the question: How can it be that the same bureaucrats who feel compelled to literally tell the book by its cover be so vague when naming the department that is the cornerstone of the proposal?
ONE EXPLANATION; NOT ENOUGH
The only explanation so far for the title, “Department of Community Living,” is to be consistent with the newly formed federal “Administration for Community Living.” Here’s the rub, nothing in this title relates to aging. Ironically, at best the copycat move conjures up the age-old adage of two wrongs don’t make a right. Moreover, community living is a non sequitur, with no tangible bearing on its intended purpose, constituents, policies or programs.
Webster’s defines “community” as any group living in the same area or having interests, work, etc. in common; the general public; a sharing in common. The word is overused and abused. As far back as 2005, a Washington Post article referred to the “world’s expanding community of communities.” It adds that use of the hackneyed term and concept imposes on a “faux-descriptive category on a random phenomenon” and has ‘long been over-applied to diverse and often fractious realms.”
“Community Living” is a wrong-headed choice of words for a couple reasons: 1) “Community” is an ambiguous word with multiple definitions; and 2) assuming here that it means living in your community at home and/or independently, it infers that the administration/department denounces the role of skilled nursing facilities and retirement or assisted living communities. (Yes, community is how most providers refer to their properties.) Government is supposed to promote inclusivity and consensus building, not divisiveness.
LIVE IN THE NOW
In regards to the latter point, the report does offer many valid reasons for combining various state departments to better serve older adults and individuals with disabilities. However, it misses the mark with the objective “to avoid institutionalization.” This is both an inappropriate and anachronistic characterization of long-term care. LTC, regarded as a vital component in the aging-services continuum, has not use terms like “institution” or “institutionalization” or “old folks home,” for that matter, for decades. Further, LTC communities provide much-needed services and supports, including healthcare, safety, security and socialization, which often are not available to people aging-at-home.
Since it is bad form to complain without offering a solution, this is my proposed title: “Department of Longevity Services.” Because: “longevity” means long life; plus the word is contemporary, inclusive and frames growing older as a positive experience. And this is what should define such an auspicious government department.