Bob Madonna Voices Concern at State Aging Plan Forum

May 24, 2016

Philadelphia Business Journal

Representatives from Philadelphia-area businesses and nonprofit organizations serving senior adults had plenty of recommendations Tuesday for the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, which hosted a hearing in the city seeking feedback of its proposed “2020 State Plan on Aging.”  The hearing was the third in the past week following sessions held in Allegheny and Dauphin counties. The plan, said Department of Aging Secretary Teresa Osborne, outlines the state department’s plan to “prevent instability of health and wellness by enabling citizens to age in place with dignity and protect the most vulnerable from abuse.”

The 14-page plan lists four primary goals:

  1. Promoting existing programs and services supporting older Pennsylvanians,
  2. Improving access to programs and services,
  3. Enhancing the quality of services by expanding and improving data collection, and
  4. Empowering the workforce and fostering career development for the direct care workforce that serves older adults.

Several speakers during the nearly two-hour hearing expressed surprise and concern that the state plan barely mentions senior centers, which they said play a vital role in: educating seniors and their families about programs, connecting them to services, helping them fill out forms, and providing activities for seniors and a place for them to socialize.

Renee Cunningham, associate director of the Center in the Park, a nonprofit senior center in the Germantown section of Philadelphia, said when she set aside time to read the proposed plan she anticipated reviewing and making suggestions for the parts devoted to senior care centers.

To her surprise, there was only a single reference.

“In a 14-page road map, senior centers aren’t even a pit stop let alone a vehicle,” said Cunningham, adding the plan needs to include a defined role and dedicated funding for senior centers.

Robert Madonna, president and CEO of Surrey Services for Seniors also was shocked by how little attention was paid to senior centers. Surrey, a nonprofit organization based in Devon, Pa., serves seniors in Philadelphia’s western suburbs with centers in Media, Havertown and Broomall.

“With more and more people aging, we are going to need more and more help,” Madonna said.

Other speakers included those urging the department to include specific measures to care for the special needs of elderly people with Alzheimer’s disease or HIV and AIDS. Other urged for the plan to include specific measurers to assist senior adults with legal service needs in a cost-effective way.

Holly Lange, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Corporation on Aging, commended the department for recognizing the importance of data in helping organizations better understand the value and programs and services they provide. Lange said she the department did not focus enough on the transportation issues. “The transportation challenges faced by older adults in Pennsylvania are significant,” she said.

Lange said in Philadelphia 19 percent of elders report using transportation services and 11 percent report needing transportation service. “It doesn’t make sense to offer senior day care programs if there isn’t transportation to get people to the program or if it arrives late,” she said.

Health Partners expanding services
Kathy Cubit, a director with the Philadelphia-based Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests, said the draft plan needs a lot of changes to become an effective plan.

“There is no vision and no demographic data that helps identify priorities, unmet needs, challenges, opportunities or trends,” Cubit said. “In the past the Pennsylvania Department of Aging has posted detailed data that has helped to inform the planning process. The stated goals are fine, but the reality is Pennsylvania will not meet the needs of older Pennsylvanians if these are not identified and quantified.”

Cubit went on to say the “elephant in the room” was that the plan does not address the major changes coming as the state, beginning in 2017, begins to implement its managed long-term services and supports [MLTSS] plan — called Community Health Services — that will shift the delivery of services for senior adults covered by Medicaid to managed care organizations.

Osborne said the department’s final 2020 State Plan on Aging is scheduled to be implemented beginning Oct. 1. The plan is required for the state to receive federal funding — which accounts for about 22 percent of the department $5 million budget. The other 78 percent is funded by state lottery proceeds.