Florida State University

College of Social Sciences & Public Policy

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Pepper Center director honored on eve of retirement

Larry Polivka

After a distinguished 11-year career at Florida State University, the director of the university’s Claude Pepper Center has been honored by an organization devoted to research, education and practice in the field of aging. 

Larry Polivka won the Elaine M. Brody Thought Leader Award  from the Gerontological Society of America in acknowledgement of his outstanding  career  contributions in social research, policy and practice.  The announcement came just prior to his planned retirement from the university on May 31.

“We see this recognition as sounding a high note to a distinguished career and are so grateful for all the work Larry has done over the years,” said Tom Herndon, executive director of the Claude Pepper Foundation. “We are immensely proud of him and wish him bon voyage on his retirement.”

Polivka, who holds a Ph.D. in sociology from FSU, has been a highly vocal and active advocate for aging issues for many years. After several years with the Florida Department of Health and Human Services and as lead policy adviser in the Office of the Governor, he was appointed director of the State Unit on Aging. He followed this with a 17-year stint as the founding director of the Florida Policy Center on Aging at the University of South Florida beginning in 1992.

Polivka returned to FSU in 2009 as resident scholar of the Pepper Foundation and took on the role of Pepper Center director in 2010. During his tenure, he helped create the current framework for assisted-living facilities in Florida. One of his central concerns is creating staffing minimums to improve care. In 2011 he was appointed by then Gov. Rick Scott to chair a committee that offered 123 recommendations to improve outcomes in long-term care facilities, of which only about a third have been implemented by the Florida Legislature. 

More recently, Polivka has written and spoken on how the COVID pandemic exposed the inadequacies and vulnerabilities of nursing homes, whose residents have been disproportionately impacted by the public health crisis – in some states accounting for nearly half of all COVID deaths in the early months of the pandemic.

“Unless funding for home- and community-based services is substantially and steadily increased over the next several years, the failures of our current long-term care system will become worse,” Polivka wrote in a widely published article in July 2020. “The U.S. spends less of its GDP (1%) on long-term care than virtually every other wealthy country. If the U.S. were to move to a higher level of GDP spending on long-term care services, we would be able to expand and improve access to our community-based programs and make it possible to pay care workers a livable wage, health care benefits and sick leave.”

In his time as director of the Pepper Center, Polivka has guided the creation of a clear vision and mission focused on some of the major policy areas important to the late Senator Claude Pepper (1900-1989), including retirement security, health care and long-term care. These major concerns of older Americans and their families today – likely to become even greater for future generations – have guided the research and policy analysis activities conducted by the center and Polivka. The results of this scholarship have been disseminated through research reports, issue briefs, journal articles, op-eds, conference presentations and congressional and legislative testimony. 

“I’d like to express my deep gratitude to the board and officials of the Pepper Foundation and to the university, which have provided strong support for our work and guidance when needed,” Polivka said. “I consider myself very lucky to have had so many great opportunities over the course of my long career, especially those provided through my association with FSU, first as a grad student beginning in 1969 and then with the Pepper Center for the past 12 years.” 

The Elaine M. Brody Thought Leader Award  will be presented to Polivka at the annual meeting of the Gerontological Society of America in Phoenix, Arizona, in November 2021.

The Claude Pepper Center, which opened in 1997, is the name of the building that houses the Pepper Foundation, the Pepper Institute on Aging and Public Policy, the Claude Pepper Library and Museum and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. It also refers to the organizational research entity that is a unit of the FSU College of Social Sciences and Public Policy. For more information, visit this link.