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Supporting Those Who Step Up and Care 

November is National Family Caregiver Month, a time to honor the people who step up in order to care for their loved ones. This month is also a good opportunity to raise awareness of issues impacting family caregivers and increase support for them in their caregiving role.

Family caregiving has many faces: They are adults taking care of aging parents or other relatives, grandparents raising grandchildren, or a non-relative caregiver, such as a close family friend, raising a child whose parents cannot care for them.

Grandparents raising grandchildren is one of the largest groups of caregivers in Pennsylvania. According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2018 American Community Survey 5-Year Profile, more than 235,000 grandparents lived with their grandchildren under 18 years old in Pennsylvania, and of that, over 84,000 were responsible for the basic needs of their grandchildren. The Pennsylvania Department of Aging (PDA) advocates for grandfamilies through collaborations with other state agencies, our stakeholder groups, advocacy organizations, and the legal community, including the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Advisory Council on Elder Justice and SeniorLAW.

PDA also advocates for those individuals who are caring for loved ones with Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders. This disease and the need to raise awareness related to it are among the emerging issues that we incorporated into our four-year State Plan on Aging that went into effect October 1. There are about 280,000 people aged 65 and older in Pennsylvania who are currently living with Alzheimer’s Disease. With November designated as National Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month, PDA is pleased to continue its partnership with two Pennsylvania chapters of the Alzheimer’s Association: the Delaware Valley and Greater Pennsylvania Chapters. Through this alliance, we support programs, services and outreach for the benefit of people living with Alzheimer’s and all dementias, and their caregivers.
 
No matter whom they are caring for, all caregivers may need some type of support, whether it’s emotional, financial or legal. With the COVID-19 emergency, the need for such assistance may even be greater. PDA offers resources for caregivers of adults and children. We also oversee the Caregiver Support Program, which helps to ease the stresses of caregiving. All of these resources can be found on the department’s website.

PDA joined the Department of Human Services to launch www.kinconnector.org, a resource designed to assist kinship care families in connecting to services and supports that can help both children and their caregivers. The website provides resources in local communities on trainings and services available for kinship families, and information about support groups and networks of other kinship care families and family care professionals. KinConnector also runs a helpline and provides support in English and Spanish. The number is 1-866-KIN-2111 (1-866-546-2111).

Improving and increasing support for caregivers in Pennsylvania is one of the department’s objectives in its State Plan on Aging. In fact, we are currently seeking changes to Pennsylvania’s caregiver support law to help strengthen the program. We realize there is a need to support families and friends who are caregivers to enable them to thrive in this role. The department will look to enhance existing statewide marketing and outreach efforts to inform caregivers about the benefits and services available through the Caregiver Support Program. We hope to increase enrollment in this program over the next four years. We also will advocate for the needs of caregivers, including grandparents, caregivers of those with Alzheimer’s Disease and related disorders, and older caregivers of people living with disabilities. PDA will support the Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) in their collaborations with existing providers and organizations to develop, promote and deliver training for family and volunteer caregivers.

Caregivers in Pennsylvania truly can use all the help they can get, and it’s up to all of us to be there for them. Thank you to the AAA network, our community partners and stakeholders who continue to help make a difference in the lives of older adults and caregivers. And most importantly, thank you to all the caregivers who give so selflessly of their time in the care of others to enable them to live with a good quality of life.  Your efforts are recognized and sincerely appreciated. 

 
Sincerely,
      

 
Robert Torres
Secretary of Aging
Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Forum is November 5

Join the Department of Aging and the Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Task Force for the 2020 Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Disorders Virtual Forum this Thursday, November 5 from 9:30 a.m. to noon.
 
The theme for this year’s forum is: Racial Disparities and Inequalities in Early Detection, Diagnosis and Treatment. The keynote presenter will be Roy Hamilton, MD, MS, Associate Professor of Neurology, Director of the Center for Brain Science, Translation, Innovation, and Modulation, Director of Laboratory for Cognitive and Neural Stimulation at the University of Pennsylvania.
Register here

Deadline to Redeem Farmers’ Market Program Vouchers is November 30

Older adults who currently possess vouchers for the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program have until the end of November to redeem them. The voucher distribution ended on September 30.
 
These vouchers can only be used to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers’ markets that participate in the program.
 
Seniors can find a participating market closest to them by visiting the Department of Agriculture's website. They should contact their local AAA for more information.

 

Medicare Open Enrollment Period is Underway, Free Counseling Available

Medicare beneficiaries have until December 7 to sign up for Medicare Prescription Drug coverage and health plans to complement Medicare, and current Medicare beneficiaries can review and join, switch, or drop Medicare Advantage or Prescription Drug Coverage so that it better meets their needs.
 
PDA is offering free, objective health benefits counseling through the APPRISE Program. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, counseling sessions will be conducted over the phone or virtually.
 
Beneficiaries can call the APPRISE Helpline at  1-800-783-7067 to find an open enrollment event in their area.

Home Heating Assistance Program Now Open
 
Enrollment is now open for the 2020-2021 Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The program assists low-income families and seniors with paying their heating bills with a cash grant. Households in immediate danger of being without heat can also qualify for crisis grants. These grants do not have to be repaid.

 

For more information about LIHEAP, including how to qualify and sign up, visit the Department of Human Services’ website.

PUC Urges Utilities to Prepare Now to Help At-Risk Homeowners This Winter
 
The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) is urging public utilities to act now to help
at-risk homeowners stay warm, safe and connected this winter.
 
As part of its “Prepare Now” campaign, the PUC is urging utilities to work closely with households and businesses:
  • Encouraging income-qualified consumers to apply for assistance programs – All eligible consumers, especially those who may not have been reached in past years, should apply for assistance from programs designed to help make energy bills more affordable, including Customer Assistance Programs, Low Income Usage Reduction Programs (LIURPs) and budget billing.
  • Exercising flexibility and leniency – When establishing payment arrangement plans for all consumers, consideration should be given to circumstances such as lost or reduced income, extended illness of a household member, or increased household size and accompanying expenses.
  • Educating consumers – Information about conservation and ways to reduce energy usage should be made available to all consumers.
  • Enhancing charitable support – Increasing corporate donations to and fundraising for utility hardship funds and other community-based programs can assist consumers who need help paying their utility bills.
Older adults can learn more about income-qualified programs by visiting the PUC’s website. They also can find ways to shop energy suppliers and learn about efficiency and conservation steps to take on the PUC’s PA Power Switch and PA Gas Switch websites.

Stand United Against COVID-19

Join your fellow Pennsylvanians by standing united against COVID-19. There are many steps we can all take to help mitigate the virus:

  • Wear a mask when you leave your home.
  • Stay six feet away from others.
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands.
  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces often.
  • Limit gatherings and avoid crowds.
  • Stay home if you feel sick.
  • Contact your healthcare provider if you think you might have COVID-19.

You can also download DOH’s free COVID Alert PA app. It notifies users if they may have been exposed to COVID-19 without revealing their identity or location.

The app’s features include an interactive COVID-19 symptom checker, opt-in for alerts for potential exposures to the virus, updates on the latest public health data about COVID-19 in PA, and advice for what to do if you have a potential exposure to COVID-19.

The app is completely anonymous – it does not use GPS, location services, or any movement or geographical information, and it will never collect, transmit, or store personal information.


For more information on the app, including how to download it, visit the Department of Health’s website.

Wolf Administration Calls for Extension of Support for Regional Response Health Collaborative

The Department of Human Services (DHS) and Governor Wolf are calling on the federal government to extend funding for the Regional Response Health Collaborative (RRHC) beyond the December 1 deadline.

The RRHC is a statewide program that launched in late July and is funded by the CARES Act.
It provides clinical, operational, and educational support to long-term care facilities preparing for or facing outbreaks of COVID-19 at their facility. The RRHC is operated regionally by 11 local health systems across the commonwealth. You can view a map of these health systems on DHS’ website.

The RRHCs are available 24/7 to support the nearly 2,000 nursing facilities, personal care homes, assisted living residences, and private intermediate care facilities in Pennsylvania and the residents they serve.

For more information visit the Department of Human Services’ website.

Help Protect Older Adults from P-EBT Scams

DHS is warning Pennsylvanians, especially older adults raising grandchildren or other children, about a possible scam regarding Pandemic EBT (P-EBT). People have reported receiving calls with pre-recorded messages advising them to expedite their P-EBT benefits issuance by providing their Social Security number and case record number. The message claims to be from a County Assistance Office.

DHS and other government agencies do not ask for information about any public assistance programs via unsolicited or random calls or texts, and anyone who is contacted in this manner should not reply or share any personal information.

Older adults, and those raising children, who may need help with purchasing or affording food may be eligible for P-EBT and other public assistance programs. They can apply by visiting the COMPASS website.

Be Aware of Latest Unemployment Scam

New reports have emerged regarding a scam involving the Department of Labor and Industry (L&I). Scammers posing as L&I employees are calling people and requiring personal information to correct an unemployment compensation account issue.

Some of the victims of this scam have previously received unemployment benefits for which they didn’t apply. L&I reminds everyone that it does not call, text, or email people and ask them for information such as a username, password or full Social Security number.

For more information, visit L&I’s website.

Meet PDA’s Newest Advocates, "Addie" and "Pete"  

The State Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman recently incorporated two Padbots as part of its ongoing efforts to strengthen its communication with residents in long-term care facilities.
 
“Addie the Advocate” and “Pete the PEERbot” are part of a pilot program launched during the COVID-19 emergency. They are designed to safely connect ombudsmen with residents who may not be able to adequately correspond or who do not have their own communication devices. Ombudsmen control the Padbots’ movements and their faces are projected on a screen to allow personal, private interaction with residents without assistance from facility staff.


The program is partnering with TechOWL, the Institute on Disabilities at Temple University, to provide these Padbots as an option for facility visits. An Administration for Community Living (ACL) entity, TechOWL will provide needed guidance and on-going support for proposed in-person and virtual activities, particularly with increasing cases of COVID-19.

The pilot program for the Padbots launched in Dauphin County and the devices were purchased with CARES Act funding. The goal is to get two Padbots in each of the six regions covered by the State Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman.

Congrats to the Latest PEER Graduates

PDA congratulates these five residents of Platinum Ridge Center for Rehab & Healing in Allegheny County for completing the training to become Pennsylvania Empowered Expert Residents (PEERs).



PEERs are trained advocates under the State Office of Long-Term Care Ombudsman, and because they live in a long-term care community, they are experts in making recommendations for improving the living conditions within their own homes and facilities. Thank you, Jackie Jacobs, MaryAnn Fiscus, Kathleen Janicki, Debbit Grogno, and Betty Emanulson for your leadership!
 
For more information about the PEER Program, check out the Department of Aging’s website.  

Ombudsmen’s Virtual Bingo Connects Residents with Facts and Fun

The Ombudsman’s office hosted a virtual bingo to celebrate Residents’ Rights Month. This year’s theme is “connection matters,” and the game showcased one of the great ways the office is connecting with residents in long-term care facilities.

                         
About 90 residents and 365 PEERs participated in the game, which was held over two separate sessions. This wasn’t your average bingo though: Every time a number was called, the bingo caller read off a fact about residents’ rights.
 
Shoutout to Kandy Schreffler, PEER coordinator, and everyone who made this event a success!

AARP Partnership to Connect Residents with Loved Ones Receives Heartfelt Feedback

June’s Inside Aging featured the department’s State Office of the 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.

The Department of Aging has collected the following initial feedback from some of the facilities that received the devices: 

The social worker is in charge of phones and a record of numbers of residents that have used the phones. She commented that residents are delighted to have two phones that can be shared and are more readily available for them to call their loved ones. – Lawrence County

The social worker reports approximately four residents have benefitted from the use of the phone. They're very appreciative of the ombudsman program and AARP for the gift. – Lebanon County

The resident said she was so grateful to have the phone so she can contact people much easier. The phone has been a great asset to her to reach family and keep her less isolated. – York County

Governor Wolf Recognizes PDA Staff for Efforts During Pandemic

The Wolf Administration and the Department of Aging recently recognized the State Office of Long-Term Ombudsman and other Aging staff for going above and beyond during the pandemic to help older adult residents of nursing homes connect with loved ones and the outside world. 

Read more here
LOOKING BACK
 
House Legislative Activity
  • Senate Bill 1268 (Ward) – Certification of COVID-19 temporary nurse aides
  • House Bill 2792 (Thomas) – Long-Term Care Medical Director Registry and Communication Act
  • House Bill 2861 (Rapp) – Access to long-term care facilities for essential caregivers
  • House Bill 2684 (Boback) – Amends the Pennsylvania Caregiver Support Act (PDA legislative priority)
House Hearings
 
On October 16, Rep. Burns hosted a Democratic Policy Committee hearing on video gaming terminals and skill games in Pennsylvania.
 
Senate Legislative Activity
  • Senate Bill 1279 (Mensch) – Essential family caregivers in facilities during disaster emergencies
  • House Bill 375 (Goodman) – Excludes state veterans’ payments from income when determining PACE/PACENET eligibility
    • On October 29, Governor Wolf signed the bill into law, now known as Act 82.
Senate Hearings
 
On October 6, the Senate Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 1256 (Corman) regarding video game terminal expansion.
 
LOOKING AHEAD
 
Currently, the House and Senate are only scheduled to return once more, on November 10, before the session comes to a close.  
The department would like to thank the General Assembly for its support of older adults during the 2019-2020 legislative session. Many legislators introduced bills focused on PACE/PACENET eligibility, supporting caregivers, combatting elder abuse, reporting financial exploitation, and advocating for long-term care residents, just to name a few.
 
We look forward to the 2021-2022 legislative session and continued work toward helping older adults.
Already a Dementia Friend? Become a Champion!
 
Have you attended a Dementia Friends Information Session? Feel inspired to share what you learned with your community? We need Dementia Friends Champions volunteers in every county to lead the movement that is changing the way people think, act, and talk about dementia. We need you!
Invite:  https://mailchi.mp/8996e0f44f35/save-the-date-apprise-conference-april-5063462
Register:  https://form.jotform.com/202795074641155
 
Virtual Events for Older Adults
 
Avoiding Scams and ID Theft – A program that looks at how identities are stolen or compromised and identifies ways to protect yourself from common scams and fraud.
  • Mansfield Senior Center (Tioga County) on Wednesday, November 4 from 11 a.m. to noon. Open to Senior Center members. To participate contact Dawn Vetter, Senior Center Manager at 570-662-2130.
  • Lancaster Neighbor Senior Center (Lancaster County) on Friday, November 6 from
    10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Open to Senior Center members. For information and to participate contact Vasthi Dominguez, Senior Center Manager at 717-299-3943.
Fraud BINGO – A fun and interactive presentation that teaches consumers how to protect themselves from investment scams and other financial fraud by playing a familiar game: Bingo.
  • Southern Blair Senior Center (Blair County) on Thursday, November 5 from
    10:45 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. Open to Senior Center members. For more information contact Kelly Benton at 814-317-5181.
Reverse Mortgages – What Can You Expect? – Topics in this presentation include: What is a Reverse Mortgage, what do I need to qualify, what the procedures are for obtaining and retaining a reverse mortgage, financial requirements, alternative options to consider, what to avoid, drawbacks, your obligations and how you can repay the debt.
  • Thursday, November 5 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. with the PA LINK (Butler, Lawrence, Mercer Counties) and Butler County Area Agency on Aging. Contact Brittany Buzzelli at 724-487-5104 or bbuzzell@co.butler.pa.us to attend.
Cybersecurity: Keeping Yourself Safe Online – A program designed to help build cyber awareness and help you to keep your information safe and secure online. This presentation covers key topics like using secure websites, creating strong passwords, being aware of what you put on social media, and even tips for shopping online safely.
  • Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg (Dauphin County)
    Thursday, November 12 from 11 a.m. to noon. Open to Senior Center members.
Spending Plans – A Road to Financial Success
  • Philadelphia Senior Center on Tuesday, November 17 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. To participate contact 215-546-5879.
Consumers and community groups can call 1-800-PA-BANKS or email informed@pa.gov for more information.
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