Improve Human Services in Pennsylvania the State Should Talk to On- The-Ground Agencies before Whacking Critical Programs

By Nelkin, Robert | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), February 13, 2013 | Go to article overview

Improve Human Services in Pennsylvania the State Should Talk to On- The-Ground Agencies before Whacking Critical Programs


Nelkin, Robert, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Your elderly, widowed mom bounces back remarkably well from hip replacement surgery, anxious to get home to her comforting couch, crocheted afghan and collection of Hummel figurines.

Decades ago, this wouldn't have been possible, since she'd be shuttled off to a nursing home for "convalescence." In recent years, however, you and your mother would immediately meet with a skilled nurse who'd assess her condition, discuss options and make a plan to ensure she could return home where her spirits would bolster her recovery. She would avoid expensive nursing home care while still being medically supervised.

That is, until now.

This process of care, which in the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare involves the "aging waiver," has helped thousands of seniors across Pennsylvania live safely in their homes while relieving taxpayers of unnecessary nursing home costs, which are estimated to be two-and-a-half-times that of care for seniors who remain at home.

But in July 2011, the state Legislature gave the secretary of DPW power to slash programs without oversight or public discussion under the guise of rooting out "waste, fraud and abuse." As a result, rampant cuts have been made to vital programs. Some 89,000 children have lost health care coverage, people with serious mental illness have received inadequate care, and adults with disabilities have been unable to get help with feeding and bathing.

Then, this past summer, the aging-waiver program was gutted and the counties, which had been Pennsylvania's long-time partner in arranging care for seniors, were forced to leave thousands of seniors without care and in jeopardy of nursing home placement.

Forty of Pennsylvania's 52 Area Agencies on Aging, which run the county programs for the state, could no longer afford to continue them and began to withdraw. Seven actually did.

In the face of these cuts, the agencies battled on behalf of Pennsylvania's seniors. With some 300,000 citizens over age 85, making Pennsylvania the fourth oldest state in the nation, this was a worthy fight, and good news seems to be coming of it.

At the urging of United Way of Allegheny County and with support from other advocates and the governor's office, the DPW has agreed to reinstate some funds for the aging-waiver program and, better yet, work with Area Agencies on Aging, counties and senior care experts to make the program more effective and sustainable. …

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