Elder Affairs Continues to Advance Innovations and Enhance Critical Programming for Florida’s Cherished Seniors and Their Families

For Immediate Release: December 28, 2023
Contact: DOEA Communications, communications@elderaffairs.org

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Department of Elder Affairs (DOEA) Secretary Michelle Branham celebrates the Agency’s achievements in her second year of leadership, maximizing Governor Ron DeSantis’ continued commitment to Florida’s senior’s and focusing on lessons learned in the field. 

“In my first year as Secretary, I focused on visiting all parts of Florida, learning so much from our providers, partners, and the seniors themselves,” said Secretary Michelle Branham. “My second year is about implementing important lessons our team learned, as we continue to serve our nearly 6.2 million Floridians aged 60 and older. I am truly grateful for Governor Ron DeSantis’ unwavering commitment to not only prioritizing support services for seniors, but also Florida leading the nation in the fight against Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias. I am eager and excited to continue the wonderful work we are accomplishing at the Department, ensuring our cherished elders in this great state remain healthy, safe, and independent.”

The Framework for Freedom Budget demonstrates Governor Ron DeSantis’ dedication to seniors and his commitment to continuing to lead the nation in Alzheimer’s disease research, services, and treatment

  • $12.5 million increase for Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias services to expand the work of the state’s 17 Memory Disorder Clinics and service providers, which assist residents and caregivers affected by the disease.
  • A total of $86 million was invested in funding for over a year in infrastructure to put Florida at the forefront of the nation for Alzheimer’s Disease and related dementias.
  • A new one-hour training for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders (ADRD) was created to enhance direct-care workers’ basic knowledge of ADRD, supporting the collective goal of increasing the quality of care provided by licensed-care settings.
  • More than $2 million to expand the Florida Alzheimer’s Center of Excellence, an initiative announced by Governor DeSantis last year that provides support to families with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis to gain access to resources and clinical trials early on in their dementia journey.
  • Nearly $500,000 for the Alzheimer’s Association’s Brain Bus to provide services and outreach to more rural areas of the state for early detection and prevention of Alzheimer’s disease.
  • A $5 million increase to expand the Community Care for the Elderly and Home Care for the Elderly Programs to care for more seniors in home and community-based settings, which enables them to continue living in the place of their choosing and delays or eliminates the need for them to utilize a long-term care setting.
  • Over $400,000 for Hope Florida – A Pathway to Purpose to support Hope Navigators and the Hope Heroes volunteer program to connect seniors to resources and support within private, non-profit, volunteer, and faith-based communities.
  • A Senior Housing Liaison within the Department was appointed to innovate and advocate for better housing options.

Increase in Education and Transparency for the Office of Public & Professional Guardians (OPPG)

In July, the required continuing education requirements for professional guardians increased from 16 to 30 hours every two years. Specialized courses are now required in Fiduciary Responsibilities; Professional Ethics; Advance Directives; Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation; and Guardianship Law. The OPPG has increased transparency and accountability in the complaint process by ensuring all allegations are thoroughly reviewed and investigated to ensure the well-being of the ward. Additionally, the OPPG has provided the Registered Professional Guardian Profile Search on the Department’s website, which includes professional guardians’ registration status and any substantiated complaints and discipline.

Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) Expansion

This year, LTCOP grew and expanded the program to meet the needs of residents in long-term care. Staff and partners carefully examined the LTCOP and evaluated how to address the growing senior population’s long-term care needs. Staff members were elevated to recognize their commitment and to increase our footprint in the state. The LTCOP revamped the program’s policies and procedures to align with state and federal guidelines and increased training statewide. Additionally, a successful statewide marketing campaign was developed and implemented to drive volunteer recruitment and raise awareness of the LTCOP.

Hope Florida – A Pathway to Purpose

Last year, Secretary Branham and First Lady Casey DeSantis announced the expansion of the Hope Florida initiative to include the Department of Elder Affairs. The program brings together government, private, nonprofit, and faith-based organizations to support seniors in need of assistance with the goal of helping the individual to age in the place of their choosing. Additionally, the First Lady launched Hope Heroes, a volunteer program to connect community citizens with seniors in need of assistance. Through Hope Florida, the Department helped 1,452 seniors in 2023.

State of Florida’s Israel Rescue Operation for Seniors

Senior Connection Center (SCC) and the Area Agency on Aging or Pasco-Pinellas (AAAPP), DOEA’s local Area Agency on Aging, coordinated staffing at the MARC for all arriving Israel Evacuation flights into Tampa International Airport in October. In addition, beginning with the October 18 flight, staff were joined by a representative from Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services (GCJFCS), which has a strong history of working with holocaust survivors, refugee services, and crisis counseling. For all arriving flights, staff provided toiletry kits, packages of Kleenex, hand sanitizers, first aid kits, and a variety of snacks to arriving passengers. In addition, GCJFCS welcomed many of the arriving children with teddy bears.

Providing Assistance and Resources to Communities Impacted by Hurricane Idalia

The Florida Department of Elder Affairs’ mission is to promote the well-being, safety, and independence of Florida’s seniors, their families, and caregivers, especially in times of crisis, such as hurricanes. In August, Hurricane Idalia made landfall as a Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 125 miles per hour, splitting trees in half and ripping roofs off buildings.

The Department deployed staff to distribute food in impacted areas, while Secretary Branham and her leadership team visited and assisted at several senior and community centers across the state that were impacted by Hurricane Idalia.

Visiting Florida’s Aging Network and Community

Secretary Branham again traveled across the state this year, resulting in over 50 visits to every Planning and Service Area for the Department, touching each of the 11 Area Agencies on Aging. Supporting and visiting Florida seniors and the aging network is critical to the mission of the Department, which will ensure success in serving future generations.

Joining the Florida State Surgeon General to Launch Healthy Aging for a Healthier You

The Healthier You initiative was launched by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) to provide Floridians access to resources that promote healthy lifestyle habits proven to optimize health. The initiative was expanded to include seniors and is called Healthy Aging. It focuses on bone and joint health, preventing falls, lowering the risk of cognitive decline, and more. With more than 6.1 million seniors living in Florida, Healthy Aging for a Healthier You invests in adopting healthy habits to prevent diseases that counteract staying healthy as we age.