An Experienced Hand
Lance Robertson takes his decades of work with older Oklahomans to a federal position on aging issues.
Lance Robertson says he was honored to be among Oklahoma Magazine’s Oklahomans of the Year – and he’s grateful for the opportunity to represent the state on the federal level as the Assistant Secretary of Aging and Chief of the Administration for Community Living after his June appointment by President Donald Trump.
“We have some strong representation from Oklahoma here [in federal government], and I’m proud to be one of them,” Robertson says.
A Wellston native, Robertson attended Oklahoma State University as a business major, but he couldn’t have predicted then where he would be today.
“It’s always fascinating to look back and see the paths that God has put us on,” he says. “I was asked to help launch the Gerontology Institute at OSU, and from there it just took off. It is something I can get up in the morning and be passionate about.
“And at the root of all that is my desire to be a public servant. After I left the college, I went to work in government. Higher education is certainly different from working for the state, and working for the federal government is different from both.”
Robertson says he has always had an ambition to step into a federal post where he can make a difference.
“But the stars have to align to get a presidential appointment. So last fall I did position myself for consideration, and it was exciting in February or March when I began participating in conversations where I knew I was being considered.”
Robertson’s considerable experience and accolades for his work likely helped him earn the appointment.
He worked for 12 years at OSU, then in 2007 became Oklahoma’s director of aging services in the Department of Human Services, where he oversaw an annual budget of $325 million, supervised 19 major programs and led a statewide team of 225 staff members.
Robertson also served as the executive director of PartnerShips for Aging, and is past president of the National Association of States United for Aging and Disabilities (NASUAD), an authority on aging and disability issues. In addition, he is a trustee for the Oklahoma Public Employees Association Political Action Committee, a council member of the Edmond YMCA, and a veteran of the U.S. Army.
He has received the Oklahoma Aging Professional of the Year Award, the Salute to Leaders in Aging National Award, and the 2015 NASUAD President’s Award.
“Fortunately, I was able to demonstrate to this president [Trump], with my 22 years of experience, that I could promise him competence in running a multi-billion dollar agency,” Robertson says. “You have to bring to bear your willingness to be transparent, exhibit passion, and be a relationship builder – and I really pride myself on my work as a unifier rather than a divider, and vision casting, creating a vision, a path, for the agency.”
That path comes with not a few challenges that Robertson says he is more than ready to take on with a staff that he calls “some of the best professionals I’ve ever worked with.”
The number of older adults and people with disabilities in this country is growing rapidly, he says, with 10,000 people a day turning 65.
“Funding for services cannot keep up with this growth, so we are working on innovative ways to capacity build,” Robertson says.
Other challenges include recognizing increasingly complex health conditions and needs, and integrating services into health care.
“We can’t forget that there are things that make us feel better that aren’t related to a pill or a shot, or a visit to a physician,” he says. “We need to make sure we’re folding these services into our health-care systems and doing everything we can to help people stay in their homes and communities.”