Governor's Conference On Aging

Last week wrapped up the 54th Annual Governor's Conference on Aging and laid the groundwork for some big plans to assist Montana's elderly population. This year's conference was held in Great Falls and was a refreshing return to face-to-face networking and resource sharing after several years of virtual meetings due to the pandemic.

The conference kicked off with a focus on Elder Justice with an eye opening, first hand account from Susan Bivins; an educated woman who did all the right things to save for her golden years only to become a victim of a scam that forced her out of the home she loved.

Susan's story is one everyone should be aware of; it started with her questioning a charge from Amazon and ended with a DEA imposter threatening and terrifying her before stealing her life's savings. Susan's story highlights how sophisticated scam artists can be and she hopes it will give other victims the courage to come forward without fear of accusations that "they should have known better". Her story can be heard on the AARP website at

Susan's story was followed by a panel discussion from Montana's four Elder Justice Councils that were created specifically to combat stories like this. Richland County Commission on Aging Director, Jodi Berry, chairs the Eastern Elder Justice Council. During the panel discussion, she joined the chairs of the North and South Central Councils and Montana's Elder Justice Prosecutor to discuss what each council is doing to combat elder exploitation, abuse and neglect and how all four councils are working together for the betterment of seniors across the state.

The theme among all four councils centered around education and awareness while reducing the stigma that falling prey to a scam artist is somehow the victim's fault. To achieve their goals, the councils are working on a variety of projects that range from creating a statewide training database for every sector (including the general public) to the creation of a program to safeguard senior electronics and information from scammers. Members of the panel also received some valuable input from conference attendees that will help them refine their focus and include a number of other issues that many seniors have found themselves facing.

After a morning of sobering topics, the event lifted everyone's spirits by honoring Montana's Centenarians; those that have turned over 100 years young, including some of Richland County's very own residents. Hearing their stories is always heartwarming and inspirational and one of everyone's favorite parts of the event.

The rest of the conference was comprised of breakout sessions so you could tailor your experience to what affects you the most. Sessions including everything from Social Security Myths and Facts to Landlord/Tenant laws and even an immersive dementia simulation gave attendees unique insight and the ability to get answers from the experts.

Plans will soon be underway for the 55th Annual Governor's Conference on Aging and if this year was any indication, it will be well worth attending whether you work with the elderly or you are a senior yourself. For those that want to attend but find it financially difficult, grants are available for travel, lodging and registration. If you would like to apply for a grant once the next conference is announced, the Richland County COA will happily help you submit an application.


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