June 11, 2024 Aging With Dignity Conference: Featured Presenters and Participants

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On Tuesday, June 11th, the MA DPH Bureau of Substance Addiction Services hosted its annual Aging with Dignity Conference. Members of the behavioral health workforce attended, hosted tables, and presented in plenary sessions and workshops. 

Cassie Cramer, AWD Table host

Cassie Cramer oversees the Older Adult Behavioral Health Network (OABHN) at the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health. With more than a decade of experience supporting at-risk older adults in the community, Cassie advocates for critical statewide behavioral health, peer and wellness support to help older adults live in the community or setting of their choice.

When asked what she likes about being a part of the workforce, Cassie said: “As we age, we gain resilience and wisdom. Older adults are a great population to work with that face unique access barriers to substance use supports.” She also remarked: “I am happy to be a part of this event that breaks down silos and brings together aging and behavioral health providers to support recovery and community lives for older adults.”


Jessica Hernandez AWD

Jessica Hernandez is a Senior Geriatric Support Service Coordinator at Springwell Inc. Jessica has worked with all ages but focuses her efforts on aging populations in Massachusetts. Jessica has a focus on supporting individuals with co-occurring mental health and other disabilities.

Jessica attended the “How to Have a Supportive Conversation about Substance Use” workshop, led by Training Manager Alexandra Heinz, from the Massachusetts Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment Training and Technical Assistance, (MASBIRT TTA) program at BMC. During this session, Jessica was an active participant and spoke on the specific skills and strategies she has learned while in the workforce.

Jessica said that the mantra “I am not my diagnosis, I am a person” has stuck with her while in the workforce. It speaks to the importance of destigmatizing substance use and need for individualized services.

Rossana Lau-Ng, AWD Presenter

Dr. Rossana Lau-Ng, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Boston University Chobanian and Avedisian School of Medicine presented, along with Colleague Bronwyn Keefe on “The Intersections of Substance Use Disorder and Behavioral Health Considerations in Older Adults.”

Dr. Lau-Ng said “I love meeting like-minded people who share the same passions for caring for older adults with substance use disorders and/or mental health disorders.”

Dr. Jaqueline Vorpahl, PhD, Clinical Psychologist, UMASS Boston, Institute for New England Native American Studies (left), and Maria Turner, Director of the Indian Child Welfare Act Program, Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe (right), co-presented the afternoon plenary: “Empowering Our Sacred Elders: Integrating Indigenous Wisdom for Dignity in Aging.”

Jackie Vorpahl and Maria Turner, AWD Presenters

This session explored the application of Indigenous wisdom alongside modern approaches to uplift older adults facing challenges with substance use. The presenters shared their expertise in clinical psychology, child welfare, and leadership within Indigenous communities to present culturally sensitive and impactful programs like the Sacred Parent Education Program. They drew on the rich content of the "Sacred Parent Education Program" and the essence of what an Elder represents, and highlighted the integration of Indigenous and community-based wisdom to promote wellness in order to address substance use in older adults.

Of the conference, Maria said: “It’s great to see this information about elders and native communities get out to the public because it is not out there!” and Jackie said: “I feel lucky to share this information related to elders and native American communities. It’s also great to attend this conference to learn what others are doing related to older adults and substance use.”

Kerry Bickford, AWD Presenter

Kerry J. Bickford, Peer Grief Support Specialist of Grandparents and Older Adults at the Support After a Death by Overdose (SADOD) presented a workshop titled “Peer Grief Support for a Substance Use-Related Death in MA & its Intersection with an Aging Population.” Based in Cape Cod, Kerry has been a leader in the grief support community throughout Massachusetts.

Kerry said: “I was looking forward to presenting at this conference because of the opportunity to shine a light on peer grief support for the aging population.” She went on to say, “The variety of programs available statewide is something I consider to be of critical importance to all of us and I was able to sit in on two other sessions plus the lunchtime plenary, increasing my own knowledge and skills."