In October AARP Oregon announced Ruby Haughton-Pitts was its new state director, taking over from Jerry Cohen, who opened the office in 1996.
Most recently, Haughton-Pitts worked as director of outreach and advocacy for AARP Illinois in Chicago, but the new position marks a return to Oregon. Previously she worked as director of legislative and public affairs at CareOregon, vice president of external affairs for OCHIN (a nonprofit healthcare innovation center) and vice president of government relations for U.S. Bancorp in Portland. In her new role she’ll oversee a staff of seven full-time employees as well as more than 150 state office volunteers.
AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to serving and empowering American seniors. It boasts nearly 38 million members, 510,000 of them in the state of Oregon.
“Our goal and our vision here is to go deeper into the community,” Haughton-Pitts said of her new role. “There’s so many opportunities in the state of Oregon for people as they age.”
Oregon has the advantage of being a younger state, and that gives it more freedom to experiment with ways of providing care and appropriate infrastructure for seniors as they age, Haughton-Pitts said.
“So many of the things that I saw when I went to Chicago was because it was an older state and they had tried things that had failed like public housing -- so Oregon doesn’t have to go back and try that experiment again,” Haughton-Pitts said. “We can look at our housing and housing stock and try things. We can try mixed-use, mixed-income -- and there’s a whole lot more space. Even though Portland is a lot more impacted by high rises [than other areas], there’s much more space in the state of Oregon.”
On the flip side, she noted Illinois has more infrastructure for inexpensive transportation options, which are key to helping individuals stay in place as they age.
“All of those things make communities more livable: can I get around without a car? Can I get to my doctor’s appointments? Inexpensive transportation – we don’t need to call it public transportation – inexpensive transportation is key to that,” Haughton-Pitts told The Skanner.
Looking ahead to the next legislative session, Haughton-Pitts said the organization is looking at health security, caregiving, long-term care and retirement savings – as well as affordable housing. The organization’s interest in caregiving issues included its advocacy for the 2017 Care Act passed out of the state legislature last year: it requires hospitals to provide training to family caregivers before their loved ones are discharged.
The organization is also a strong advocate for paid family and medical leave, so individuals who work full-time can take time off from a job to care for a loved one.
“This month, November, is family caregiving month,” Haughton-Pitts said. “We are honoring family caregivers across the nation and we’re encouraging National Family Caregiving Month and for employers across the country to honor this month and to consider paid family care, family leave and medical leave.”
AARP is also always looking for volunteers, including for its Tax Aide program, which offers free tax services for individuals 50 and older.
“AARP’s mission is to serve, not to be served. That’s a 60-year motto from our founder, Ethel Percy Andrus, and we carry that forward,” she said, referencing AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus’ statement, “It is only in the giving of ourselves of others that we truly live.”