Tuesday, October 22, 2019
On Monday, I participated in a panel discussion of aging services in Pennsylvania, at the invitation of Professor Patricia Aguilera-Hermida, who is on the faculty of Human Services and Family Studies at Penn State Harrisburg. Even though I knew most of the panelists -- all experienced professionals from Pennsylvania's Department of Aging -- the occasion gave me new insight and respect for the role of advocacy on behalf of older adults. The students were attentive and asked great questions, and I suspect some of them saved their best questions for the one-on-one time with the speakers.
Robert Torres, the Secretary of Aging in Pennsylvania reminded us that our state has a uniquely strong, dedicated funding system to advocate for older adults through the Pennsylvania Lottery. About 80% of the department's operations and outreach budget is funded by this source. As anyone who has worked in state or federal government would know, the "fight" for adequate funding for operations can be intense, and in many states older adults would not have a strong position in the queue for necessary dollars.
The breadth of programming outlined by the panelists is impressive. For example, Christine Miccio, Director of the Bureau of Aging Services described in detail the OPTIONS program that provides direct support for more than 55,000 older adults who are still in their homes. Pennsylvania also has more than 500 publicly supported Senior Centers -- a way to reach additional people with meals, health care information, activities and social programs. Margaret Barajas, a dynamo who is the Statewide Long-Term Care Ombudsman, explained how a system of volunteer and paid advocates investigate and coordinate responses to concerns about senior living-based needs, including concerns about quality of services in nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Denise Getgen, as director of the Older Adult Protective Services Office, described the ever growing need for investigation of complaints about elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. In recent years, the number of complaints received and investigated by the state has grown to over 40,000 allegations per year, with the majority of concerns focusing on self-neglect for persons in isolated circumstances. I've worked with several of these units directly over the years, especially when I was head of my Law School's Elder Protection Clinic. Pennsylvania's Area Agencies on Aging continue to fund and coordinate certain free legal services for seniors in need in each county throughout the state.
One student asked about whether services from the Department are limited to "citizens" of the United States -- and it was impressive to hear the long list of services that are NOT restricted by citizenship. Another student tossed a "softball" question -- "what is your favorite program?" -- and Christine Miccio hit it out of the park by describing the success of a new pilot program in rural Pennsylvania that matches up older adults who need housing or assistance -- with those who can provide housing or assistance. She joked that she is now the eHarmony of housing matches, especially as the original pilot program is extending to several additional counties.
My thanks to Professor Aguilera-Hermida for hosting this noon-time chat with so many students who are considering a wide range of aging services as part of their career goals. One enterprising student explained to me that her interest in the field of gerontology at medical school was sparked when she found affordable housing as a student in a well-known, nearby nursing home that had "extra" space.