Dyan Villeneuve, Augusta
State Office of Elder Services, Policymaking
Dyan Villeneuve knows the passion of advocates for the elderly working at the grassroots level throughout Maine to ensure older adults get what they need to live healthy lives. She’s also seen the difference statewide policymaking can make for individuals.
Villeneuve hopes to be part of a concerted effort to bring issues facing older adults more to the fore in preparation for the cresting elder wave — aging Baby Boomers.
“I’d like to see this population get more respect in terms of funding. It seems a lot of times with state, federal or private funding, geriatrics is not considered ‘sexy,’” she says. “People want to focus on children and families, and the elder population gets forgotten. I want to make elders — and their needs — more of a known entity.”
As an undergraduate in social work, Villeneuve discovered her love of geriatrics while interning at Brewer Rehabilitation and Living Center. Her interest in planning and policymaking surfaced during a placement with the state Department of Health and Human Services’ Children’s Services division.
“I like the idea of a large system like DHHS that can still react and offer services to people on an individual basis,” Villeneuve says. “My supervisor was a social worker who had an amazing way of making every person or family that dealt with her department feel as if she was only working on what they needed. It was a very caring, individualized approach.”
In the state’s Office of Elder Services in Augusta, a division of Health and Human Services, Villeneuve was involved in policy planning activities, testimony before legislative committees and survey data compilation.
“This year focused me more on the political arena and I found the energy at the Statehouse intoxicating,” says Villeneuve. “I see myself running for political office one day, something I didn’t see myself doing before this year. Social workers are perfectly suited because we are trained broadly in how to deal with people and communities.”
When it comes to older adults, an overarching concern statewide is the need for more long-term care options. Communities need to work in concert to achieve a larger voice of advocacy, presenting a unified message that they’re ready to plan for the challenges the elder wave will bring. To be prepared, they need state guidance, support and resources, Villeneuve says.
“I think our state needs to be more proactive and less reactive. There are so many people in the state with a love for elders. We just need to get all of them together to plan for the inevitable, important issues like housing, transportation, healthy aging, integration of generations in communities.”
Image Description: Dyan Villeneuve