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Using Technology to Help Older Adults Stay Engaged and Connected

Having access to technology with our smart phones, tablets and computers is something many of us may take for granted. Yet there are nearly one million Pennsylvanians, including older adults, without broadband internet access. While the commonwealth continues to move toward a “new normal,” many aging adults may need to continue to remain home and connect with loved ones, get their food and medications, and access medical care online. Now more than ever, providing accessibility to the internet is becoming a life necessity.

The challenges of social distancing during COVID-19 have also created opportunities to adapt and innovate. The Department of Aging is creating partnerships and technology solutions that will empower older adults to connect and enrich their lives in new ways beyond the pandemic.

The Pennsylvania Council on Aging has formed a Social Isolation Task Force focused on three areas:  Risk Reduction, Socialization and Technology. They recently conducted a survey of 3,700 older adults to find out how they were coping during the pandemic, and to learn how we can better address some of their needs. One of the things we learned is that seniors, even those in the 80-plus age range, are interested in using technology to get services, connect with loved ones, attend religious services and enrich their lives. They just need access.

Our department, through the Office of Long-Term Care Ombudsman, has supported new resources to help individuals connect with loved ones in long term care facilities. The Virtual Family Council uses a virtual platform to hold weekly meetings with families to support them and facilitate connection with loved ones. Already, this program is becoming a model for other states’ efforts. Our new partnership with AARP to help nursing homes residents connect with loved ones has already put 100-plus cellphones and tablets into the hands of those who need that connection most. We look forward to growing this pilot program.
 
We have also received $3 million in CARES Act funding for our PA Link to Aging and Disability Resources. We will use these funds to provide assistive technology, strengthen connectivity capabilities and enhance training, all with an eye toward improving access to services and helping to combat social isolation.
 
Last month I mentioned that the department is working to complete its four-year State Plan on Aging for 2021-2024. As part of that process, we’d normally hold community events to invite public input on the plan. Instead, this week, on July 7 from noon to 1:30 p.m., we’re hosting a Statewide Virtual Community Conversation to present a draft of the plan and gather public input. An online survey we released to gather information for the plan drew nearly 6,000 responses from across the commonwealth.
 
As we continue addressing the challenges presented by this pandemic, I would like to thank every one of you for your hard work, ingenuity and flexibility. Throughout these tough times, I continue to be amazed by and proud of our department, our community partners and our entire aging network. Together, we are doing a commendable job to support older adults and ensure we will come out of this stronger than ever.


 
Sincerely,


 

Robert Torres
Secretary of Aging
Mask-Up PA!

Reminder that the safety order requiring masks has been expanded to make masks mandatory in all public spaces, effective July 1.  This is required to help stop the recent rise in COVID-19
cases in Pennsylvania.  Additional information can be found by visiting on.pa.gov/2VFj7Dk.
Learn How to Recognize and Report Abuse with PDA’s New Online Training

In response to and in recognition of Governor Wolf’s Executive Order on Vulnerable Populations, the Pennsylvania Department of Aging has created a free, online Mandatory Abuse Reporting training module to help aging and human services providers recognize and report elder abuse.

The training is available, but not limited, to providers, employees and administrators of long-term care facilities; personal care homes, home health care agencies; adult day centers, domiciliary care residences and collaborative partners. Although the training is intended for mandated reporters, anyone who is interested in protecting older adults from abuse can take the training.

The module was developed to reach a broad audience from entry-level to seasoned professionals. The training takes about 30 minutes to complete and includes knowledge checks throughout to ensure that participants understand the information. A printable certificate recognizing the successful completion of the training module is available. This training module will also help to ensure that facilities are compliant with licensure requirements.

To access the Mandatory Abuse Reporting Training Course with an existing account, or to sign up for account, visit the PDA Learning Management System website.
LGBTQ Virtual Town Hall with Secretary Robert Torres

On Wednesday, July 15 from 10 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., the Department of Aging will host a Virtual Town Hall on the LGBTQ community aging in Pennsylvania.

The town hall will provide an opportunity for LGBTQ community members, caregivers, service providers and other stakeholders to share their experiences, concerns and suggestions for improving the delivery of services for LGBTQ older adults and to hear about the development of the department’s State Plan on Aging.
Feedback from this town hall will help strengthen the department’s State Plan on Aging and its efforts within the aging services network to be more responsive to the needs of the LGBTQ community.

You must register through a special link created by the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging to participate via WebEx. If you choose to participate by phone, you must still register through the link to obtain your attendee ID.
Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program Issues Early Rebates

More than 310,000 Pennsylvanians received early rebates from the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The Department of Revenue traditionally issues rebates starting on July 1, but Governor Wolf signed legislation into law in May that allowed rebates on property taxes or rent paid in 2019 to be issued sooner to help provide financial support to those eligible Pennsylvanians.

Older adults who have not yet applied for their Property Tax/Rent Rebate have until
December 31, 2020 to do so. More information on the program, including the eligibility criteria, is available on the Department of Revenue’s website.

Financial Assistance Available for Renters and Homeowners

Pennsylvania renters and homeowners who were financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic may be eligible for assistance from the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency under the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

To qualify, renters will need to document at least a 30% reduction in annual income since March 1 related to COVID-19, or they must have been unemployed after March 1. If unemployed, they must have filed for unemployment compensation.

For homeowners to qualify, they must have been unemployed after March 1 or suffered at least a 30% reduction in annual income due to reduced work hours and wages related to COVID-19.
For more information or to apply for assistance, visit the Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency website.

Meeting the Need for Broadband Internet in PA

From working at home and children learning online to conveniently ordering groceries and other necessities, many of us have discovered just how valuable broadband internet has been during the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Yet there are many Pennsylvanians – including older adults – who do not have access to the internet, and that could put them at greater risk of potentially contracting the coronavirus while food shopping, getting medication, going to appointments or conducting other needed tasks. 

The lack of technology and internet also puts older Pennsylvanians, particularly those in rural areas, at risk of social isolation and depression due to not being able to see loved ones and friends. A program in northern Pennsylvania is working to expand broadband service while helping older adults stay connected and engaged. You can read more about this exciting project on the Broadband Breakfast website.

Recently, Governor Wolf joined a bipartisan group of 11 governors to send a letter urging the president and Congressional leaders to make critical investments to ensure everyone has access to broadband internet connectivity. The push for high-speed internet everywhere in Pennsylvania is also a part of Governor Wolf’s Restore Pennsylvania initiative that addresses the commonwealth’s vital infrastructure needs.

While the commonwealth is making strides to reopen and bring back a sense of normalcy, it’s very possible that working, learning and shopping all from home may be more prevalent in the months to come. With that in mind, it’s imperative to ensure that all Pennsylvanians have adequate internet access.
Take Part in the WalkWorks Program
 
With summer upon us, it’s a great time to get outside with the family and go for a walk. The Pennsylvania Department of Health has collaborated with the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health for what’s called the WalkWorks Program.

The partnership has created a network of community-based walking routes and walking groups across the commonwealth. For more information, including walking routes in your community, visit the Department of Health’s website.
Research Explores Person-Centered Care for LGBTQ Older Adults

A research project on person-centered care for LGBTQ older adults will seek to understand how to best care for LGBTQ older adults, reduce LGBTQ health disparities and improve healthcare experiences.

Britney Wardecker, an assistant professor at Penn State’s College of Nursing, is co-leading the study and sits on the aging workgroup committee for the Pennsylvania Commission of LGBTQ Affairs. Rabbi Erica Steelman, staff chaplain and director of LGBT+ Initiatives at Abrahamson Senior Care, is also part of the research team and served on the provider panel during PDA’s inaugural LGBTQ Aging Summit in 2018. The research will sample older LGBTQ community members living in the Philadelphia area.

You can read more about the research study on Penn State’s website.
June’s Inside Aging featured the department’s Office of Long-Term Care Ombudsman’s partnership with AARP Pennsylvania to provide communication devices to long-term care facilities that will help residents increase contact with their family and friends. Lots of hard work (and teamwork!) went into launching this pilot program, as can be seen in this photo of PDA employees packaging up the cell phones and tablets to ship to those facilities. A big thank you to all! 

Farmers Market Nutrition Program Market Locator App

There’s now an app to help older adults find the nearest location to redeem their Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers.

The locator can be downloaded on Apple and Android devices. For more information about the app and the nutrition program, visit the Department of Agriculture’s website.

LOOKING BACK
 
Legislative
The House considered the following bills:
  • H.B. 400 (Klunk) – Abuse of a care-dependent person via media
  • H.B. 1930 (Hennessey) – Updates the Older Adults Protective Services Act
  • H.B. 2509 (Day) – PPE grant program administered by the Department of Aging
The Senate considered the following bills:
  • H.B. 1061 (Schroeder) – Requires communication between the Office of Attorney General and the Department of Aging when investigations within the Telemarketer Registration Act involve someone 60+
Hearings
The House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee held weekly informational meetings on COVID-19 and long-term care facilities.

On Thursday, June 25, the Senate Aging and Youth Committee held a meeting to provide an update on COVID-19 and long-term care facilities.

LOOKING AHEAD

The House returns on Tuesday, July 7, and the Senate is in recess until September.
Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Council Update

The Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Council (LTCC) met remotely via WebEx on June 4 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During the meeting, council members received COVID-19 and long-term care-related updates from the Departments of Aging, Health, Human Services, Insurance, Military and Veterans Affairs, and Transportation. Click here to view the PowerPoint presentation provided by the Department of Human Services’ Office of Long-Term Living and here for the handout from the Department of Health. Members also received presentations on the Pennsylvania Council on Aging’s COVID-19 Statewide Survey Report, and the Department of Aging’s upcoming 2020-2024 State Plan on Aging. The council’s next meeting will be held on August 20. Due to the current COVID-19 situation, the location/format is yet to be determined.
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging welcomes the following new AAA directors who came on board in June:
  • Kim Briggs – Office of Human Services, Inc. (Cameron, Elk & McKean counties)
  • Mary Claire Megargle – Monroe County Area Agency on Aging
  • Barb Nicolardi – County of Delaware Services for the Aging
Welcome to the Aging Family!
AAA Directors: Check Your Mailbox Settings!

The Department of Aging often delivers mass mailings to various groups through the MailChimp app, and has discovered that in some cases, the mailings are dropping into the spam folders of recipients in AAA offices statewide.

The department respectfully requests that AAA directors check with their IT support staff to “whitelist” any correspondence coming from MailChimp so it is routed into the proper inboxes. This will ensure that all intended parties receive vital information and direction from us.
Thank you for your diligence on this matter!
Have You Completed the Census?

With all the attention surrounding COVID-19, many people may have forgotten about completing the 2020 Census. It’s a quick and easy process that can be done by filling out the paper form that was mailed to homes, over the phone or online. Visit my2020census.gov for more information.
Here are some important dates:
  • July 1 – September 3: Census takers will work with administrators at colleges, senior centers, prisons, and other facilities that house large groups of people to make sure everyone is counted.
  • August 11 – October 31: Census takers will interview homes that haven't responded to the 2020 Census to help make sure everyone is counted.
  • December: The Census Bureau will deliver apportionment counts to the President and Congress as required by law.
  • March 31, 2021: By this date, the Census Bureau will send redistricting counts to the states. This information is used to redraw legislative districts based on population changes.
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