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Northeastern professor named state’s elder affairs head

A Northeastern University associate professor well-known nationally and in Massachusetts for her work with older Americans was chosen Thursday as the state’s new Secretary of Elder Affairs.

Alice Bonner, who previously directed the nursing home division for the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services in the Obama administration, will start her new position June 1, according to a news release from the Baker administration.

“The fastest-growing segment of the population includes those age 85 and older. It is critical we have a strong leader who will listen to and meet the needs of these and all older adults and their caregivers,” Marylou Sudders, state health secretary, said in a statement.


Before joining the Obama administration in January 2011, Bonner, a registered nurse, directed the Massachusetts Bureau of Health Care Safety and Quality, which oversees nursing homes. During that time, she championed a push to lower the use of powerful antipsychotic drugs in nursing homes, particularly for seniors with dementia who are vulnerable to dangerous side effects from the medication.

Bonner continued that campaign in the Obama administration.

“I look forward to hearing from the individuals [the agency] serves,” Bonner said in a statement, “including those living at home, in senior housing, assisted living, nursing homes and other settings, as well as people in state government, our stakeholders and partners.”

Elder advocates said they were excited by the selection of Bonner.

“She is a real professional who understands the substance of the work,” said Mike Festa, director of AARP Massachusetts, who served as state elder affairs secretary from October 2007 to spring 2009. “When you are sitting down working with her, she is sensible, bright, and thoughtful in the way she engages with people.”

People over the age of 60 make up 20 percent of the population in Massachusetts, according to a state news release.


Kay Lazar can be reached at Kay.Lazar@globe.com Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar.