AGS Launches New Initiative Addressing the Intersection of Structural Racism and Ageism

New York (Nov. 2, 2020)—The American Geriatrics Society (AGS) today publicly announced its plan for how it will begin to address the intersection of structural racism and ageism, after issuing a position statement on discrimination this summer.

“Since we issued that statement, AGS leaders have spent the intervening time thinking about what that commitment means for a Society that is focused on addressing another big ism – ageism – in health care. We’ve also been in learning mode, working to understand our own implicit bias and gathering ideas for achieving lasting and meaningful change,” said AGS CEO Nancy E. Lundebjerg, MPA.

The AGS has committed to three actions steps to address racism in health care, given its impact on older adults, their families, and their communities: (1) affirming the Society’s commitment to creating a future where health care is free of discrimination and other forms of bias; (2) ensuring its educational programs and products address the diversity of older adults; and (3) setting an aspirational goal of guaranteeing that all original research published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society (JAGS) and presented at the AGS Annual Scientific Meeting will take full account of ethnicity, gender, disability, age, and sexual orientation in design, undertaking, and reporting by 2031.

As a first step, AGS added the following statement to its vision for the future: “We all are supported by and able to contribute to communities where ageism, ableism, classism, homophobia, racism, sexism, xenophobia, and other forms of bias and discrimination no longer impact healthcare access, quality, and outcomes for older adults and their caregivers.”

“We thought it was important to put our commitment front and center in our statement of who we are,” AGS President Annette Medina-Walpole, MD, AGSF explained.  “This commitment has always been a part of who we are as an organization.  Putting it front and center in our future vision reflects our deep commitment to achieving lasting and meaningful change — which we know will require tremendous energy across the AGS for the foreseeable future — so we’ve also embedded this focus into our strategies for achieving our vision.”

To establish a road map for its work going forward, the AGS will be crafting a series of papers that include an issue brief outlining the intersection of structural racism and ageism, and a statement of principles summarizing a series of goals for achieving change, as well as recommended tactics and strategies for accomplishing those goals.  Parallel to this work, JAGS will be inviting papers that are focused on the state of science when it comes to the diversity of study populations and will provide a baseline for future efforts in this area.

The American Geriatrics Society will also take immediate action to combat structural racism and ageism in health care by updating its portfolio of products, including the Geriatrics Cultural Navigator app. “The AGS has long been a leader in supporting cross-cultural communication in health care, having published the first volume of its Doorway Thoughts series in 2004, and our app is based on that earlier work,” Lundebjerg noted. “We will be creating companion publication tipsheets for each of the 27 different ethnicities and religions covered in the app.  As we update our other programs and products, we will also be assessing how best to integrate attention to the intersection of structural racism and ageism in health care into all our work.”

In the coming months, the AGS will be inviting members to share their thoughts on the new initiative and its implementation through a series of listening sessions and focus groups. “We know that our AGS members care deeply about improving the health, well-being, and quality of life in all older adults’ lives,” Medina-Walpole said. ”We are looking forward to getting their input into how we can accomplish our future vision and embarking on this journey together. We recognize that this is difficult work that will take time and are fully committed to staying the course until we have achieved our vision for a healthcare system that is free of structural racism and ageism.”

About the American Geriatrics Society

Founded in 1942, the American Geriatrics Society (AGS) is a nationwide, not-for-profit society of geriatrics healthcare professionals that has—for more than 75 years—worked to improve the health, independence, and quality of life of older people. Its nearly 6,000 members include geriatricians, geriatric nurses, social workers, family practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and internists. The Society provides leadership to healthcare professionals, policymakers, and the public by implementing and advocating for programs in patient care, research, professional and public education, and public policy. For more information, visit AmericanGeriatrics.org.