CLIFTON PARK, N.Y. — A Clifton Park resident with years of experience in the field of elder care has been named Alzheimer’s Ambassador to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer.
In mid-August Jennifer Pettis of Clifton Park was selected to be the organization’s Ambassador to New York’s senior Senator. A native of Greenwich and an expert on aging and health care, Pettis is the associate director of the long-term care program at NICHE (Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders) at New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing and a member of the Board of Directors for the Alzheimer’s Association Northeastern New York.
Alzheimer’s Ambassadors are grassroots volunteers for the Alzheimer's Impact Movement, the advocacy arm of the Alzheimer's Association. The organization assigns one Ambassador to each Congressional office. In committing to serve a renewable one-year term, Alzheimer’s Ambassadors are the main point of in-district contact for each Legislator on issues related to dementia and Alzheimer’s.
The Ambassadors work to develop and advance policies focused on overcoming Alzheimer's disease through increased investment in research, enhanced care, and improved support.
“My area of focus has always been older adults,” Pettis said recently. “I have a great passion for improving the quality of care for people living in nursing homes many of whom have Alzheimer’s or dementia. Helping them to get better care and helping them to live at home as long as possible is very important to me.”
Pettis’s life has been centered on healthcare since she was a teen. While still in high school in Greenwich and later while taking classes at what is now SUNY Adirondack College, Pettis worked as a nurse’s aide at Mary McClellan Hospital. After graduation she continued to work in the field while earning her undergraduate degree in Healthcare Management and her graduate degree in Nursing Education from SUNY Empire State College. She is also a Registered Nurse.
In her position at NICHE she is focused on improving the program’s member hospitals and nursing homes’ frontline nursing staff (nurses and nursing assistants) positioning them as leaders in their practice by empowering them with the knowledge of evidence-based best nursing practices.
Pettis was offered the position of Alzheimer’s Ambassador to Sen. Schumer after her predecessor retired from his job and moved out of state.
“I have a real interest in being an Ambassador because of my background in advocacy. Part of my work in the past was in health policy,” she said. “It was something I was interested in as a volunteer Board member with Alzheimer’s Association NENY.
"Part of what nurse’s do is advocate for individual and groups.”
As an Alzheimer’s Ambassador Pettis will work with Alzheimer Association staff and the teams of volunteers, those individuals with Alzheimer’s and their families, as they visit House and Senate members in Washington to discuss legislative priorities. She’ll also work with staff from the Alzheimer’s Association NENY as they contact members of the media to make them aware of the organization’s legislative priorities.
The vision of the Alzheimer’s Association is a world without Alzheimer’s disease. The organization’s mission is to eliminate Alzheimer’s through the advancement of research, to provide and enhance care and support for all effected, and to reduce the risk of dementia through the promotion of brain health.
“We work to fulfill that mission through advocacy, research and care and support,” Pettis said. “The advocacy part is huge. The Alzheimer’s Association is the largest group of advocates at the national and state levels for those with the disease.”
With regard to research, Pettis said the Association is the single largest not-for-profit source for funding for Alzheimer’s research in the country. With regard to care and support, Pettis said the Association does a tremendous amount at the local level with care consultations, respite support, and education and training.
“The list of support they can offer individuals with the disease and the families impacted by it is endless,” she said.
Pettis listed the Association’s priorities at the federal level as; increasing funding for Alzheimer’s research, addressing early onset Alzheimer’s, and moving the Improving Hope for Alzheimer’s Act forward as a priority. The Federal-level Act would increase education for clinicians on Alzheimer’s and dementia care planning services available to them under Medicare.
In discussing early onset Alzheimer’s Pettis said more than 200,000 people in the U.S. under the age of 65 have been diagnosed with the disease.
“Right now there are lots of services under the Older Americans Act that help people 60 and over stay in the community,” she said. “We’d like to expand those services to those living with dementia who are under 60 so we are supporting the Younger Onset Alzheimer’s Disease Act of 2019.”
Despite all the bickering in Washington Pettis noted that the Alzheimer’s Association enjoys strong bi-partisan support there.
“It’s important for people to understand Alzheimer’s is a health crisis,” she said. “It’s the most expensive disease in the U.S. There are 5.8 million people with it and by the middle of the 21st century that number is expected to triple.
"We, as a country, need to work for a cure and make sure providers are all aware and providing early intervention and cognitive screening for folks and giving families the support and care they need to live as well as possible.”