Emily Shea
Commissioner, Boston Age Strong Commission, the Boston Area Agency on Aging
Tuesday, April 7, 2020
Section: COVID-19 Resources

n4a has interviewed several AAA directors from the hardest-hit areas of the country to learn how they prepared for and are addressing COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities. Read on for an interview with Emily Shea, Commissioner of the Boston Age Strong Commission, the AAA in Boston—or listen in instead!
Where do things stand in Massachusetts?
When we spoke with Emily, she told us that the state’s governor had recently issued a stay-at-home order for Massachusetts residents. Massachusetts AAAs are working to ensure that that older adults served across the state have the essentials—particularly food, medications and in-home services. The state’s AAAs are also developing materials to ensure older adults know how they can stay safe and healthy during these times. Emily points out that her team has had to be incredibly flexible as the situation changes on a daily basis.
What is your advice to your AAA peers as they prepare to address COVID-19 in their communities?
  • Prepare staff to work remotely. Ensure staff have computers and telephones they can use to work from home.
  • Make contingency plans. Ensure that the services your agency provides can continue to as large a degree as possible, even if adapted. As the locations of meal sites and protocols for meal delivery change, this is critical.
  • Have backup plans for everything. This will ensure that services can continue even if people get sick or the way your services are provided changes.
  • Review communications tools. Are your lists updated? How will you ensure that you can communicate with people in different languages?
  • Support each other. It is easy to get swept up in the work but make sure that you and your staff stay connected in ways that drive good decisions, even in impossible situations. 
Is there something you think that’s particularly the role of AAAs (vs. our providers) in this crisis that AAA directors need to keep in mind?
It has become clear in Massachusetts that AAAs play a critical role in ensuring that in-home supports—such as those provided by home health aides, home makers, personal care aides and protective service workers—can continue. Emily also says that AAAs are the linchpin to ensuring that people get that meals they need, particularly older adults who are either unable to leave their homes or chose not to.
Helpful advice for AAA peers
Emily says that following the guidance received from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Massachusetts Department of Elder Affairs and, locally, the Boston Public Health Commission, has been helpful for her agency as it confronts the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, connecting with these agencies—and any local partner agencies that also serve older adults—is crucially important. As such, these groups have created regular check-ins to share information and coordinate with one another. Finally, Emily notes that it has been key for her agency and team to be nimble and flexible in terms of knowing what things need to be done and what can be dropped or momentarily pushed aside as the crisis evolves.
Statewide protocols for addressing COVID-19
In Massachusetts, the AAAs joined together, via the state association of AAAs (Mass Home Care), to develop new protocols for AAAs addressing COVID-19 locally. These protocols are the result of critical thinking by the state’s AAAs about how they need to adapt services in order to keep older adults and AAA staff safe. The protocols address access to Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for staff and volunteers, home visits, prioritization of in-home clients and staffing, among other topics. Once the protocols were finalized, the state association shared the protocols with the state, which has now issued guidance based on the protocols. Working collaboratively in this way expedited consistent AAA service delivery and an organized response to COVID-19 across the state.
Emily’s final word of advice
Because everything is changing so quickly, it is important to connect with partner organizations to learn whether older adults have needs that aren’t being addressed or could be addressed differently. Once your AAA learns of any unaddressed needs, it must quickly decide how to address these needs.