Inside The Senior Alliance: AARP Michigan Overview episode with Lisa Dedden Cooper Part 1 (Ep 1.20)

This episode is the first of a three-part series on AARP Michigan. In this first segment, Jason Maciejewski, CEO of the Senior Alliance, interviews Lisa Dedden Cooper, Manager of Advocacy at AARP Michigan. We get an overview of AARP and the services they provide. Learn about how AARP started back in the 1930s and how it has grown nationwide since then.


Jason Maciejewski: (00:00)
Welcome to Inside the Senior Alliance, a podcast, exploring resources and issues in the field of aging. I’m Jason Maciejewski, CEO of The Senior Alliance, the area agency on aging, serving western and southern Wayne County. Today, we’re gonna start a three-part series looking at AARP of Michigan. In the first episode, we’re going to do an overview of AARP, and joining me is Lisa Dedden Cooper, Manager of Advocacy at AARP Michigan. Lisa, welcome to the podcast.

Lisa Dedden Cooper: (00:26)
Thank you, Jason. It’s great to be with you today.

Jason Maciejewski: (00:29)
It’s great to have you joining us. We’re here to talk about AARP, which is a large and influential membership organization focused on adults age 50 and over. And, Lisa, you cover subjects ranging from advocacy to health and wellness and issues of retirement to driver safety. Could you give us an overview of what AARP does?

Lisa Dedden Cooper: (00:50)
Yes. And thank you for this opportunity today. AARP is the nation’s largest non-profit, nonpartisan organization that’s dedicated to empowering people age 50 and over to choose how they live as they age. So, we have about 38 million members nationally and about 1.3 million members in Michigan. And in particular, the part of AARP that I am involved in advocates on issues that matter the most to people age 50 and over and their families, such as healthcare and financial security, support for family caregivers, retirement planning, the global communities. We also get involved in issues and in how people can live their best lives where they are in their communities. A term that we’ll often use when we’re talking about what we do at AARP is we want to help people be able to age in place in their homes and communities where they want to be so that they have that dignity and meaning and purpose in their lives. And that goes back to our origin as an organization.

Jason Maciejewski: (02:10)
And Lisa, I know that origin involves Dr. Andrus – Ethel Percy Andrus. Could you tell us the story about AARP’s origination?

Lisa Dedden Cooper: (02:19)
Yes. And you know, I don’t know how many people know this story, but I think it’s just fascinating and really speaks to where we came from and where we are now. So, Ethel Percy Andrus was a young school teacher in 1916, and she became principal of her high school that she worked at in Los Angeles. She was kind of from the beginning in her career, a groundbreaker. She was the first female high school principal in all of California. And she later got her Ph.D., but then when she was still in the midst of her career in 1944, she ended up leaving her work because her mother became seriously ill. And so like so many women now,she left work to become a full-time caregiver. And then, at this time she began volunteering with the California Retired Teachers Association. So, as she was volunteering, she found out a local grocer had told her that there’s this woman that needed help with food, and glasses, and dentures. So, Dr. Andrus set out to find her, and the address took her to this big house, and she went there and they were like, no, no, we don’t have anybody by that name. Oh, but you know, there’s, there’s some old lady that lives out back. And it turns out that out back was a chicken coop. And so, Dr. Andrus knocks on kind of the door of the chicken coop, the shack, and it turns out it’s a teacher that she had known. She had been a well-known Spanish teacher, but as she had retired, her plans for retirement, the money that she had saved and invested, had been lost through The Great Depression. And so now, she was retired and she had her pension, her little pension of $40 a month, but she couldn’t afford housing or healthcare. And this got Dr. Andrus so mad and so worked up. So, at this point, age 63, she created the National Retired Teachers Association and set out to work on getting decent living standards and affordable health insurance for retired teachers. And then a few years later, she expanded this in 1958 to create a new organization, now known as AARP, to serve the needs of non-educators as well. And that was from the beginning what we have been focused on, and it’s still core to our mission today in all of our work.

Jason Maciejewski: (04:51)
That’s a great story. Thank you for sharing it, reflecting back on over a hundred years ago how an organization as big and as important as AARP resulted from housing challenges and some of the same issues that we face today. So, Lisa, you’re with AARP Michigan. What role do you play at the state office in that overall AARP structure?

Lisa Dedden Cooper: (05:13)
So, AARP has offices in all 50 states, plus D.C. and the Virgin Islands. In our state offices, we get involved in local communities and we get involved in state-level advocacy. In our state offices, we work in partnership with AARP at the national level, but we consider ourselves a nationwide organization because our members live everywhere all across the country.

Jason Maciejewski: (05:47)
How has COVID-19 impacted or influenced the work that AARP is doing?

Lisa Dedden Cooper: (05:53)
So, back in March of 2020, everything was turned upside down. We have been providing efforts in person. We have our volunteers who would be out in their communities. We would be, our advocacy team, over at the state capital attending committees and talking to legislators. All this changes. We had to move that type of communication away from in-person. We also changed our focus, and we really spent a lot of 2020 talking about what people needed to know, how they could better inform themselves and others that they know and stay safe from COVID.

One of the things that I think has that lasting effects on our work is a renewed focus on long-term care issues, paying attention to the risk to older adults who are living in long-term care settings, which was tragic in inexcusable, the levels of COVID cases and deaths in nursing homes. We also ramped up some of our advocacy that we had been doing for literally decades to increase access that people would have to long-term care services in their homes and communities. So, this is a phrase we talk about a lot of long-term services and supports – LTSS – or home and community-based services –HCBS – but, we knew already before COVID that the overwhelming majority of people want for themselves and their families to be able to remain living in their homes, in their communities, and in the case that they end up needing assistance with their personal care, their activities of daily living. We knew that already before COVID. But after COVID, even fewer people want to ever have to go to a nursing home to live or to send their loved one to a nursing home. So, we’ve really ramped up our advocacy and our efforts to bring change to transform Michigan’s long-term care system, to provide more services at people’s homes and communities where people wanna be, where people have always wanted to be as they age.

Jason Maciejewski: (08:09)
Right. And that focus on long-term services and supports and home and community-based services are something that we share at The Senior Alliance with you. Lisa, I know that the AARP Public Policy Institute does some significant work on research and putting forward policy proposals. Could you highlight some of the work that the AARP Public Policy Institute does?

Lisa Dedden Cooper: (08:29)
Yes. So, the AARP Public Policy Institute, I think, is really a treasure. It is a research Institute that we have in-house, and they are based in Washington D.C., but they prepare research for us for anywhere in the country. A couple of things that they have done really recently that I think are really important for us here and now – we talked a little bit, Jason, about nursing homes in COVID. PPI came up with and has continued now to maintain a nursing home dashboard when it comes to COVID, so they’ve been tracking for all the states how many cases of COVID there have been, how many deaths there have been, the levels of vaccination among the residents and the staff, and the availability or lack of personal protective equipment in those nursing homes. And so through AARP’s PPI maintained this dashboard that anybody can access to check in on, how are we doing compared to other states and our nursing homes? Where are we doing well? Where do we need to do better?

Another report that they did in the last, maybe two years, I think it was, was a report about greenhouses. And I don’t know if you’ve heard this term, “greenhouses.” It doesn’t mean greenhouses, like where people grow tomatoes. Greenhouses, a term that refers to small house nursing homes that are basically probably on average 10 to 12 beds, and they have a different staffing model than you would have in a traditional nursing home. They have something called a universal caregiver staffing model. And what was really important in PPI’s report about this idea was that we found during COVID when they surveyed them and looked at the research that was tracking them, we did not see incidents of COVID – negligible instances of COVID – in greenhouse settings compared to traditional nursing homes. And big reason are the systems in place. The infection control and the dense congregate setting that underly our existing nursing home structure are different in greenhouses. The PPI report highlighted other states have more greenhouses than Michigan. There’s a model that’s been tested that we really should look to invest in more because it provides higher quality of care and safer. And also one issue we haven’t talked about, Jason, but direct care workforce issues – there’s a lot less employee turnover in a greenhouse than there is in a traditional nursing home setting.

Jason Maciejewski: (11:18)
Lisa, thanks for covering a lot of the work that is being done by the Public Policy Institute of AARP. Some really interesting and insightful information coming out of there. I know that there’s a wealth of information as well for people at and that your organization provides opportunities for people to connect through events, many of them online. Could you tell us about some of those events and maybe some of the upcoming ones that are scheduled?

Lisa Dedden Cooper: (11:45)
So, we will always at AARP in our Michigan office – we’ve always got things going on. Over the last two years, we’ve really moved more toward virtual events because we’ve been focused on making sure people stay safe, stay connected but stay safe. So, we continue to offer virtual events. Now, some of the upcoming events that we have: we have once a month, actually, a drumming circle that is virtual that people can participate [in] on Saturdays. And that is a form of exercise, it’s also good for your brain health, and it’s an opportunity to connect and do something fun. We have different events that are also educational that will be coming up, and it varies based on season. One of the things that we will be looking to do in the fall of 2022 is to invite some of the statewide candidates to speak with us in a candidate forum. Hopefully, we’ll get the gubernatorial candidates this fall to do that. Fingers cross, right? We also have an event that we’ll be doing in August that I am really excited about. It is an event that is going to feature a group of physicians who each have themselves been diagnosed with dementia, and they’re gonna talk with us about what people need to know to have the best possible – receive the best possible care for themselves or their family member who may be facing a cognitive decline, a diagnosis or not of dementia. But, these doctors now are motivated as activists, as advocates to help empower patients because, as they put it, they’ve seen dementia and cognitive decline from both sides of the desk, as a doctor before and now as a person living with dementia. So, I’m really excited about that event that we’re hosting in August, and we’ll host it live, and we’ll also maintain a recording so people can tune in even if they miss it.

Jason Maciejewski: (13:59)
Great. Thank you for sharing that. Lisa, I want to thank you for joining me today on our podcast. It’s been great having you.

Lisa Dedden Cooper: (14:05)
Thank you, Jason. It’s great to talk with you and everyone today.

Jason Maciejewski: (14:08)
I’m looking forward to talking with you on our next episode about advocacy activities at AARP Michigan. If you have any questions about services or programs at The Senior Alliance, you can call us at 1-800-815-1112 or email us at Information about our agency or the programs and services we offer can be found on our website at On Facebook, we can be located by searching for The Senior Alliance. And finally, our Twitter handle is @AAA1C. I’m Jason Maciejewski. Thank you for listening to this episode of Inside the Senior Alliance.

Speaker 3: (14:47)
Inside the Senior Alliance is a production of The Senior Alliance and Blazing Kiss Media.

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