Senators Olsen & Erpenbach Receive Healthy Aging Star Award

Pictured (left to right): Janet Zander (GWAAR), Edie Felts-Podoll (program volunteer), Senator Luther Olsen, Betsy Abramson (WIHA Executive Director)

Pictured (left to right): Ashley Hillman (Safe Communities-Madison/Dane County), Esther Olsen (Dane County Area Agency on Aging), Senator Jon Erpenbach, Betsy Abramson



In recognition of a bi-partisan effort to fund healthy aging programs in Wisconsin, State Senators Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) and Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) were named the recipients of the 2016 Wisconsin Healthy Aging Star award presented by WIHA.


In 2016, both senators championed the legislature’s first-ever budget appropriation for a statewide clearinghouse for disseminating healthy aging programs in communities throughout Wisconsin. WIHA and its local partners – including county and tribal aging programs, health care providers and volunteers – have provided over 2,200 community programs that teach effective health promotion strategies to people with chronic illness (diabetes, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and others) and older adults who are at risk for falls. The cost of these health and injury related problems is astronomical. Treatment for chronic illnesses accounts for 95% of health care dollars spent nationally on older adults. Annually, one in three older adults has a fall costing the state $800 million, plus the financial and emotional costs to older adults and their families. Falls are also a leading cause for nursing home admissions; 40% of people who enter a nursing home had a fall within the 30 days prior to admission.


Aging advocates are encouraged by the senators’ demonstrated leadership as a strategic expansion of the state’s commitment to evidence-based health promotion and disease prevention programs. “As older adults become the majority demographic in so many Wisconsin counties, health promotion and disease prevention is the new frontier in preserving quality of life and reducing costs,” says Betsy Abramson, WIHA executive director. “Among the 10,000 participants in our Stepping On program, researchers have measured a 50% reduction in falls – one of the biggest potential health crises for older adults.”


Research has also shown that WIHA’s chronic disease self-management programs can decrease emergency department visits and hospitalizations related to diabetes and other ongoing health problems.


“We have to reach people before their chronic illness worsens or a fall causes a major health crisis,” says Abramson. “Senators Olsen and Erpenbach recognize that and have shown a commitment to making health promotion and disease prevention a budget priority as a means of reducing the need for more costly long-term care interventions down the road.”


“Behind the legislative leadership of Senators Erpenbach and Olsen, Wisconsin is pioneering a unique approach to health promotion that emphasizes local needs and patient self-management,” Abramson said. “We gratefully acknowledge these leaders for their bi-partisan approach to helping communities implement programs that really work to improve health outcomes.”