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Passing the Baton: New Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging

January 26, 2024

In today’s post, Edwin Walker, who will retire later this year from his role as the deputy assistant secretary for aging, passes the baton to his successor.

A Note from Edwin Walker

As many of you know, I will retire from federal service in March. Since 1984, it has been my honor and privilege to be a public servant at the state and federal levels focused on policies and programs designed to improve the health and well-being of older adults and help them maintain their independence, dignity, and quality of life. So much has changed in that time, but the one constant is that I have always viewed my role as a representative of older adults and of all levels of the National Aging Services Network that serves them.

As I began planning my retirement, I had the privilege of leading the national search for my successor. We sought a leader who shared those values about the work and responsibilities of the Administration for Community Living and the role of the person leading the Administration on Aging. We also wanted a person who values collaboration and partnerships between organizations and across networks – and who has experience putting that value into action. Finally, we of course wanted a professional with extensive and direct experience with Older Americans Act and related aging programs.

We received applications from many qualified candidates—from a field chock full of promising leaders. After an extensive review process, however, there was one who really stood out to the selection committee—Kari Benson. Today I am excited to introduce her as the next Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging.

Kari brings together the experience, passion, and leadership qualities the aging network needs to continue forward into the future. Her passion for aging began with experiences of loved ones who struggled to maintain their independence while needing help around the house or with their personal care. Kari knew early on that she wanted to help people to age well and live well at home.

Kari has worked her entire career in the aging network. While earning her bachelor’s degree in human ecology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Kari interned at the Dane County Area Agency on Aging, volunteered with hospice and worked as a nursing assistant in a nursing home. She returned to her home state of Minnesota to earn a master’s degree in public policy from the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. During that time, she started her first position at the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS), where she worked on one of the nation’s first planning projects focused on our aging population.

A few years later, Kari joined the U.S. Administration on Aging, where she worked on a variety of cross-agency partnerships focused on housing, transportation, and home and community-based services (HCBS) for older adults, including the Older Americans Act services. In 2004, she returned to Minnesota to raise her family, and resume her career in the state’s aging network. Since 2006, she has served in a variety of roles within the DHS and the Minnesota Board on Aging (MBA), including managing the Older Americans Act senior nutrition and healthy aging programs, coordinating the state plan on aging, and overseeing HCBS quality improvement and assurance initiatives.

In 2016, Kari took the helm of the state’s aging services, serving as the director of the DHS Aging and Adult Services Division and Executive Director of the MBA. Through these dual roles, she oversaw the full range of federal- and state-funded HCBS for older adults, their families, and the friends, neighbors, and others who provide informal caregiving support. These included the Older Americans Act programs, including the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman program; the state’s Essential Community Supports and Alternative Care programs, which provide services for people who are not eligible for Medicaid; and the state’s Elderly Waiver, a federal Medicaid waiver program. In addition, Kari oversaw the Senior LinkAge Line, which connects Minnesotans to resources and services, and the state’s adult protective services program.

In addition, Kari is uniquely qualified to continuing our work to establish and strengthen partnerships at every level of the National Aging Services Network, between the aging and disability networks, and across the communities we serve. In fact, prioritizing collaboration with the 11 tribal nations that share geography with Minnesota, as well as organizations reaching rural and underserved communities, was a hallmark of her leadership at the state level. She also partnered with the state's Disability Services Division to coordinate quality assurance and improvement strategies for the Medicaid waiver programs, strengthen maltreatment and critical incident remediation efforts for older adults and people with disabilities, and launch the state's universal LTSS assessment tool.

After an incredibly fulfilling career in the field of aging working and collaborating with some of the most dedicated and compassionate individuals in the National Aging Services Network, I am pleased to pass the baton to the next generation to continue with our vision and mission, and I am confident that I am leaving you in capable hands.

For the next couple of months, I will serve as a senior advisor to assist with the transition. I ask that you provide Kari your support and work with her to create a new era of services, supports and opportunities responsive to the issues of today’s and tomorrow’s older individuals so they can live well and thrive.  I’ll be cheering—and advocating—from the sidelines!

A Note From Kari Benson

I am very excited to assume the role of Deputy Assistant Secretary for Aging and to carry forth the good work being done at ACL’s Administration on Aging. I am dedicated to working in partnership with internal and external colleagues and stakeholders to continue to build effective and responsive systems of care and support. Each organization in the National Aging Services Network plays a critical role in supporting older adults and their families and caregivers. I am committed to continuing the important work that Edwin has led so effectively and maintaining the strong foundation of support for all levels of the network that he has cultivated. I intend to partner with other agencies and organizations to enhance policies and programs and foster innovation, with a goal of continuously improving the support we provide together to the people we serve. I am excited about returning to AoA where I started my federal career and to have the opportunity to bring my experience from other levels of the network full circle to impact national policymaking.

I am so grateful to Edwin for his willingness to remain at ACL for a transition period to share his experience, as well as his partnerships and relationships that have served him well in this role.

I look forward to our work together to make aging in the community with dignity and independence a reality for all older Americans.

Last modified on 01/26/2024

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