Edith Prague tapped to head new Department on Aging
By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Connecticut - posted Mon., Apr. 8, 2013
Former state Sen. Edith Prague, a Columbia resident, was named by Gov. Dannel Malloy at the end of March as the Commissioner of the newly-created Department on Aging. She will receive a salary of $120,000 per year for the position.
Prague, a social worker by training, was inspired by a personal tragedy to become involved with the Connecticut legislature. “When I first ran for the House, I had lost a 21-year-old niece to a drunk driver who hadn’t gotten anything more than a slap on the wrist,” said Prague. Prague began her tenure in the House in 1982, and quickly began to campaign for tougher drunk driving laws.
She also developed a reputation as an advocate for the elderly, which led Gov. Lowell Weicker to tap her for the position of Commissioner on Aging in 1990. Her relationship with Weicker was contentious, as she fought him over cuts to her own and other social service agencies. “Weicker and I parted ways in 1992,” said Prague. The department was rolled into a consolidated entity which included the Department of Social Services.
Prague was elected to the state Senate in 1994, defeating Democrat Ken Przybysz in the primary. After being re-elected to her seat in 2010 at the age of 84, Prague said that she planned to serve in the legislature for as long as her health remained good. In 2011, as the Senate chair of the Committee on Aging, Prague advocated for and achieved an elevation in status for the then-select committee to become a full standing committee of the General Assembly. Prague was a familiar sight at senior centers in her district, as she held workshops dedicated to providing seniors information regarding services available to them through the state.
On Christmas evening of 2011, Prague suffered a stroke. Though she recovered quickly and returned to the Capitol, she decided not to run for another term. She announced her retirement, and was given a fond sendoff by colleagues at the end of the session in mid-May.
Prague suffered another health setback in January of this year, when she was knocked down by a large dog and suffered a broken pelvis. But Prague said that her health is now better than ever, and she is eager to get back to work. “We are the seventh oldest state in the country, and our growing elderly population needs attention,” said Prague.
The state Department on Aging was created by statute on Jan. 1, 2013. Funding for the new department has been in place for some time. “Don Williams got money put into the budget for it,” said Prague. In 2005, Prague teamed up with Senate President Pro Tempore Donald Williams to get nearly $500,000 allocated to re-establish the Department of Aging. The allocation was repeatedly pushed back. “They kept taking it out,” said Prague.
But Malloy, citing the increasing population of aging residents in the state, has said that the time for the new department has come. Prague acknowledged that she’d approached the governor about heading the department. Responding to critics, who have said that Prague walked into a lucrative position that was created as payback for political favors, Prague said, “I don’t think you can just walk into any job without having the experience, and the qualifications.” Prague said the new position represents more than just a job. “It’s a commitment,” she said, a commitment to help state seniors “to live with dignity, security and independence.”
As the new commissioner, Prague said that one of her top priorities would be to help seniors stay out of nursing homes and remain within their communities. In addition to working with other state commissioners, Prague said she’d be working closely with employees providing elderly services throughout the state. She also plans to travel to senior centers all over Connecticut, “and have a discussion with the seniors about what they feel they need in order to stay within the community,” said Prague.