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Creating Access and Opportunity for All

February is Black History Month, a time to learn, honor, and celebrate the achievements of African-American men and women throughout history. During 2020, the 15th Amendment that granted African-American men the right to vote in 1870 will celebrate its 150th anniversary, and the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote in 1920 will celebrate its 100th anniversary.

These landmark anniversaries give us an opportunity to consider and appreciate the struggles to eliminate the disparate treatment of select groups of people.  At the Department of Aging, we recognize our responsibility to serve an increasingly diverse older population by embracing diversity across race, gender and gender identity, age, sexual orientation, and differing physical and intellectual abilities.

So how do we improve opportunity for all Pennsylvanians? First, we must be transparent in dealing with tough issues and give everyone the opportunity to be heard and feel safe doing so.

One issue that touches every demographic, and indeed every community in Pennsylvania is mental health.  Unfortunately, there is often stigma attached to having a mental health condition – negative attitudes and beliefs that can lead to discrimination. This can mean fewer opportunities for work, health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover treatment and/or reluctance to seek treatment.

According to a 2017 study from the University of Southern California, approximately 1 million adult Pennsylvanians struggled with serious psychological distress at least once in 2015. Of those adults, more than 27 percent had an unmet need for mental health care. That population includes 42 percent who did not receive mental health care because they could not afford it.

Last month, Governor Wolf announced a focused all-agency effort and anti-stigma campaign, ‘Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters,’ aimed at expanding resources and the state’s comprehensive support of mental health and related health care priorities in Pennsylvania.

The governor announced several initiatives and reviews the administration will undertake for commonwealth agencies to bolster Reach Out PA.  As a department, guided by some of the work that is being done by our Pennsylvania Council on Aging, we are exploring what we can do to battle social isolation, which we know is an underlying factor for mental and physical health issues in older adults.

Reach Out PA will include roundtable discussions to hear directly from those battling the stigma of mental illness, collaboration with community-based organizations to help increase public attention on mental illness and mental health care, and outreach to elevate success stories and best practices.

The Department of Aging will host one of the roundtables at the Long-Term Care Council’s next meeting on February 13 in Harrisburg and I will serve as moderator. Recognizing the knowledge and expertise that council members bring to this topic, I look forward to the discussion.

2020 is indeed a historic year.  When observing history, we should feel inspired and empowered to make history as well. And we are: Pennsylvania will hold its first elections since Governor Wolf signed Act 77 -- historic election reform that makes the most significant improvements to Pennsylvania’s elections in more than 80 years. To learn more about the new ways Pennsylvanians, including the older adults you serve, can vote this year, click here.  



Robert Torres
Secretary of Aging
Share your feedback and suggestions on mental health delivery in PA

Part of the governor’s Reach Out PA: Your Mental Health Matters initiative is an online form for Pennsylvanians to provide feedback on mental health barriers, services and how the state can better support people’s mental health needs.

The commonwealth will not share any identifying information without permission of those who submit information. Comments and suggestions will be compiled and reviewed to determine next steps in program and service development or redesign, as well as convey pertinent information to state agencies involved in the initiative. Forms may be submitted anonymously.


  • House Bill 775, sponsored by Rep. Russ Diamond, was reported as committed from the Senate Appropriations committee and will now receive consideration by the full Senate.
  • House Resolution 628, sponsored by Rep. Liz Hanbidge, was unanimously supported by the House Health Committee. This resolution urges Congress to expand Medicare coverage to include hearing aids.
  • There were no relevant hearings held in January.

The House and Senate will both return to session on Monday, February 3.

The department’s Senate Appropriations hearing will be held on Monday, February 24 at 3 p.m. and its House Appropriations hearing will be held on Tuesday, February 18 at 3 p.m.
The Pennsylvania Council on Aging

Call them the think tank of aging issues in Pennsylvania. Every other month at the Department of Aging’s offices in Harrisburg, a group of passionate volunteers from across the state gather for the better part of a day to discuss emergent issues and legislation affecting older adults. They come from a variety of professions, bringing a range of skillsets, life experience and interests. Some have cared for spouses with Alzheimer’s. Some have run large organizations. Some have done both. They report on research, present position papers and take action to help shape appropriate policy direction.

The Pennsylvania Council on Aging serves as an advocate for older individuals and advises the governor and the department on planning, coordination, and delivery of services to older individuals. The 21 members who make up the council (the majority of whom are required to be age 60 or older) are Governor-nominated and Senate-approved.

In the meantime, additional members of the council serve as chairs for five regional councils totaling 65 volunteers, which meet at least once a quarter. These regional councils hear reports of local needs and service delivery and report their findings to the Council. They’re also able to serve as boots on the ground for community outreach efforts. 

“We serve as a filter for issues that come up,’ said Mickey Flynn, a retired biotechnology executive from Chester Springs who took over as Council Chair in September 2019. “We’re able to say, ‘This issue deserves further attention."

And when the PCoA speaks as one voice representing multiple regions and communities across the state, their voice is heard.

Last year, the PCoA unanimously voted to support Governor Wolf’s Restore Pennsylvania plan to address critical infrastructure needs across the state. PCoA specifically identified aspects of Restore PA that would benefit older adults.

These measures include storm preparedness and natural recovery, public transportation, contaminant removal from homes and public buildings, and an issue that has become a larger agenda item for PCoA:  social isolation. Access to broadband as outlined in the Restore Pennsylvania initiative will help combat seniors’ potential for social isolation and give them access to telehealth options in their areas as they become available.

Beyond Restore PA, PCoA is continuing to explore the issue of social isolation and how it can lead to depression, lack of self-care and loneliness. A task force has been researching the issue and evaluating programming and best practices, with an eye toward making specific policy recommendations by this fall.

The Council is also vocalizing their opposition to illegal gambling machines, which siphon off an estimated $200 million from Lottery profits each year.  State and regional council members have written letters to the editor and let legislators know their concerns about the threat these machines pose to Lottery-funded programs that benefit older adults.

Flynn sees lots of opportunity for PCoA to become even more active, but first, they need to fill some openings in the five regional councils – especially in the Northwest and Northeast. “We need to have good diversity,” he said. “We can’t adequately take a position on issues like grandparents raising grandchildren or LGBTQ without it.”

Interested in learning more about PCoA? Contact executive director Faith Haeussler at 717-736-9402 or
PCoA Regional Council reps arrive in Harrisburg to make their presence known at an Oct. 2019 House Gaming Oversight Committee hearing. From left to right: Faith Haeussler, Council executive director, Andrea Addison (Central Region), Joanne McNaney (Southeast Region guest), Janice Cameron (Southeast Region), Brian Long (Central Region)
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