Editorial: Here’s to Al Norman, champion for senior rights

  • Of the things that he has done in favor of preserving the rights of seniors, Al Norman has fought to save SHINE — the state program that teaches volunteers who in turn help seniors choose the best health insurance. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Friday, December 29, 2017

The elderly and the disabled have had no better friend and advocate over the decades than Al Norman of Greenfield, whose departure as executive director of Massachusetts Home Care was reported last week.

Norman has lobbied for every piece of the puzzle that makes up the whole picture of well-being for vulnerable seniors citizens and the disabled. From health insurance and assistance in choosing and signing up for it, to the home health aides who are essential to keeping seniors in their homes, to the array of community services offered by organizations such as LifePath here in Franklin County (which he formerly led), Norman has fought for good options and for the freedom for elders to choose their own path after hospitalization instead of being put on a post-hospital conveyor belt.

Making community-based services the first choice in Massachusetts has been Norman’s goal for years, and he fought to make both consumers and providers aware of the “whole elaborate system of home- and community-based care,” as he explained to a Senate working group last summer.

Norman has lobbied in support of an amendment to support the wages and benefits earned by the front-line home care workers, who are among the lowest paid workforce in Massachusetts. “We must give these workers ‘enough pay to stay’,” wrote Norman in a My Turn column last spring, coining a catchphrase in his typical Madison Avenue marketing style of advocacy. “If we run out of workers, we run out of hope for our frail seniors.”

When Gov. Charlie Baker’s budget sought to penalize small, private companies and nonprofits with a $750-per-employee fee for those covered by Mass. Health, Norman fought against penalizing the employer who is unable to afford a better plan.

On a more personal level, when a Bernardston resident and friend was in danger of eviction from his family home, Norman was at his side, negotiating with an out-of-town bank and debt-collecting company.

Norman has fought to save SHINE, the state program that teaches volunteers to help seniors choose the best health insurance. “Medicare is a very complex, confusing health system right now,” said Norman. A proposed cut would have replaced the personal counseling with an “800” number. “It’s a classic brush-off to tell somebody to call an ‘800’ number,” Norman said. “That resource is not even wildly comparable to a person-to-person (interview).”

Norman was ever-mindful of the ripple effects on our economy of federal budget cuts, particularly those that impede hospitals’ ability to provide proper care. A cut to Medicaid in Massachusetts, for example, could affect both the poor and the growing elderly population. “We don’t want to replace the Affordable Care Act with the uninsured care act,” Norman said, while calculating consequences right down to the number of Meals on Wheels that would be lost — 81,317 — to a proposed cut in nutrition funding.

This past fall, Norman was presented with the Home Care Leadership Award, a new recognition in honor of the Home Care Aide Council’s 50th anniversary. “Al’s persuasive voice and tireless advocacy on behalf of home and community-based care is unparalleled,” said Michael Trigilio, president of the council board, at the event.

Franklin County and its seniors and the disabled owe a debt of gratitude to Norman’s untiring advocacy on their behalf throughout a career that spans more than three decades. The Grinnell Street resident said he has future work projects in mind and intends to keep writing. We wish him well, and thank him on behalf of today’s senior citizens and those who benefit from the services he has championed in Massachusetts.