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Aug 23, 2021

Focuses on pandemic response and impact of senior nutrition network leading up to 50th anniversary of the Older Americans Act Nutrition Program

Arlington, VA, August 23, 2021On August 17, Meals on Wheels America hosted a panel conversation that convened the Administration for Community Living’s Acting Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging (ASA), Alison Barkoff, and her predecessors from the last three administrations: Lance A. Robertson (2017 – 2021), Kathy J. Greenlee (2009 – 2016) and Josefina G. Carbonell (2001-2009). This panel marked the first time these four Assistant Secretaries for Aging have shared a stage.

Speaking to over 800 attendees representing more than 330 local, community-based senior nutrition programs from across the country at the 2021 Meals on Wheels Virtual Conference, the panelists discussed meeting the diverse and changing needs of older adults in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and for years to come. They also touched on the impact and evolution of the Older Americans Act (OAA) Nutrition Program as it approaches its fiftieth anniversary in March.

“We were so honored to welcome these extraordinary leaders to share with us their collective wisdom and expertise surrounding how to best meet the needs of our nation’s older adults. Together, this esteemed group underscored Meals on Wheels’ place at the table in addressing the social determinants of health that impact seniors every day,” said Ellie Hollander, Meals on Wheels America President and CEO.

During their tenure as ASA, each panelist was responsible for overseeing the OAA Nutrition Program,  which includes home-delivered and congregate meals and provides critical federal support for Meals on Wheels organizations nationwide. The program has been rooted in ensuring the nutrition, social connection and overall health and well-being of vulnerable older adults in virtually every community across the country for nearly five decades, and throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

The panel discussion focused largely on several key topics: the senior nutrition network’s pandemic response; the role Meals on Wheels plays in healthcare and addressing social determinants of health; and the network’s commitment to comprehensive person-centered service that goes well beyond just the meal.

On pandemic response:

"The skills that we have in this network [are] exemplary, but they are most precious when things are most challenging…This field has risen to the occasion before, and that’s what they have been called to do during this pandemic,” said former ASA Kathy Greenlee. “You’re the experts, and we will get through this.”

As further testament to the value the Meals on Wheels network consistently brings, both before and during the pandemic, all panelists emphasized that the level of support directed to these critical programs over the past year and a half has never been seen before.

On healthcare and social determinants of health:

“Providers are really the heart and soul of any of the Health and Long-Term Care programs in this country serving [older adults]. They're the first responders; they’re the ones that are there consistently day in and day out, serving our Elders, taking care of them at home, providing those meals and daily contact,” said former ASA Josefina Carbonell of the role of senior nutrition providers, like Meals on Wheels.

“That’s one of the greatest assets our network has,” former ASA Robertson added. "We have long been the network that's providing a lot of the services that health plans need…they should buy versus build them from you [the Aging Network], the network that's already available and ready to deliver."

On the network’s commitment to person-centered care:

“Truly, the urgency around community living and helping older adults age in place is like never before. And our nutrition programs are key to that,” said Acting ASA and Administrator Alison Barkoff. “The amazing part of our network is the deep commitment that everybody has to the work that we do.”

Watch a recording of this conversation here.

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Meals on Wheels America is the leadership organization supporting the more than 5,000 community-based programs across the country that are dedicated to addressing senior isolation and hunger. This network serves virtually every community in America and, along with more than two million staff and volunteers, delivers the nutritious meals, friendly visits, and safety checks that enable America’s seniors to live nourished lives with independence and dignity. By providing funding, leadership, education, research, and advocacy support, Meals on Wheels America empowers its local member programs to strengthen their communities, one senior at a time.

Contact: Colleen Psomas,