Nicole Ruggiano is an assistant professor of social work and a John A. Hartford Foundation Faculty Scholar
Early on, I worked as a school social worker in a disadvantaged community in North Philadelphia. It frustrated me that once students left my office they were going back into the same environment. I decided to work with policy and advocate for people by making systems-level change. My research now looks at how older adults with chronic illness and disabilities are involved with planning and decision-making about their health. How I got to this point has to do with the separation of aging and disability. There are millions of people living with chronic health conditions and disabilities, but society treats them differently based on whether they are over or under 60. It’s about social justice. If you have a younger person with a disability, the practitioner’s goal is to get that person into a job, into society with recreational activities and education. If someone is older, we are just basically trying to keep them out of a nursing home. They are not given a lot of choices about what kind of care or services they receive. Something needs to be done because baby boomers will not be content with the current state of health and support services for older adults with chronic illness and disease. They are going to want more control, more decision-making. I want to create an intervention that facilitates older adults’ decision-making and helps them have a bigger role in care planning. We need to put the values and beliefs of older adults in the forefront of their care.