History of the Aging and Public Health Section (formerly the Gerontological Health Section)

Founding the Section, 1974-1978- At the 1974 Annual Meeting of the American Public Health Association, of all the hundreds of program sessions, there was only one relating to aging. That session was sponsored by the Public Health Nursing Section. Maggie Kuhn, head of the Gray Panthers, was the Speaker who evoked enthusiasm in the audience.

Anne Zimmer spoke from the audience and asked those present to sign up if they felt that they would support an effort to add public health issues of the elderly to the agenda of APHA. Anne took those names and the issue to the APHA Action Board who designated an Action Board Task Force on Aging. Anne Zimmer was named Chairperson of the group for 1974 and again in 1975. In 1976 & 1977, the Executive Board approved the Task Force on Aging, again with Anne Zimmer as the Chair. The Executive Board action brought more visibility and funds. During those years the Task Force was very active. Participation by seniors was actively sought. Support was also obtained from:The National Institute on Aging; The Maryland Office on Aging; The Gerontological Society of America; The National Council on Aging; Staff from Congressional committees on Aging; and Geoff Gordon and Alana Davidson from APHA.

There was no one more influential in these efforts than Philip Weiler, MD, MPH, MA. He contributed essential inside knowledge of the workings and advocacy within APHA, and he contributed on the Governing Council and the Executive Board. He gave of his knowledge, his wisdom and most of all, his energy. He was always there with unflagging counsel, problem solving and influence. Without his efforts, it is likely that the Aging and Public Health Section would not exist.

During those years the Task Force persevered in focusing attention on the public health issues related to aging, not only the elderly. Priorities included providing a visible resource on issues related to aging within APHA and interacting with other APHA sections to bring attention to the multi-disciplinary nature of aging and public health. We also: contributed to The Nation's Health; developed 3 to 5 scientific sessions at APHA annual meetings; set-up a booth in the Exhibit area; made additional efforts to increase the understanding and visibility of issues of aging within APHA; organized year round efforts to increase membership; and pushed for Section status.

Philip created a network of knowledgeable individuals able to analyze legislation and help prepare testimony. Our move toward Section status meant overcoming the opposition of some of the professional leadership of APHA who expressed concern that aging was lacking widespread interest, and professed that section status was not a good idea because they were protecting us from the embarrassment of not being able to develop and maintain the required 500 members.

In 1978, through advocacy by Philip Weiler, Anne Zimmer, as Task Force Chair, was invited to present a report to the Program Development Board. It was at that time that the issue of creating the Aging and Public Health Section was allowed to proceed to the Governing Council, although the Executive Board did not endorse the proposal. It was with great glee that we witnessed a very supportive Governing Council vote establishing the Section.

Since 1978- The Mission of the Section has remained consistent over the years--to improve the health, functioning, and quality of life of older people and to bring public attention to their unmet health and long term care needs.

The Section has several avenues to fulfill this Mission. First, we encourage scholarship through competition for 8 Awards made at each Annual Meeting of APHA. These Awards include best papers on older person's health and long term care needs; women, minorities, persons who live in rural areas, and persons who live outside the US (international). We also make Awards to best papers by "new investigators" (persons within 5 years of their last degree), students, and service providers and other "practitioners." Our most publicized recognition's go to those who show outstanding leadership in the field of public health and aging and to those who have demonstrated a sustained career of scholarship and/or public service supporting the unmet health and long term care needs of older persons.

The Section is governed by its members through a democratic process of annual elections, business meetings (2) at the Annual APHA Meeting, and monthly conference calls. Our Section membership has fluctuated between 500 and 1,400 members. We are currently in an intense campaign to increase membership to the levels enjoined in the 1980s when we had well over 1,000 members. Section members have been recognized by APHA for both outstanding scholarship and outstanding leadership, both within APHA and in the larger academic community.

Perhaps the most outstanding feature of the Aging and Public Health Section is its advocacy and research aimed at improving breath and scope of the Medicare and Medicaid Programs. These are the primary means of "health" support for Older Americans. We also advocate for "community based long term care coverage" for all disabled adults under the federal Medicare Program. Our Section has long prided itself for bring financing and service delivery innovations to the public health arena. Our future is bright due to the quality of the scholarship and advocacy of all of our members. The Mission of the Aging and Public Health Section will remain unfulfilled as long as older Americans remain unable to remain in their own homes or apartments for as long as medically possible.