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Moving Toward A “New Normal” - Together

We are seeing light at the end of the tunnel with the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Pennsylvania counties are now in either the yellow or green phase, with the remainder of the counties in red expected to move to yellow on Friday, June 5. As Governor Wolf’s stay-at-home orders are lifted, we all must continue to be vigilant and practice the safety measures in place to protect ourselves, our families and our most vulnerable citizens during the “new normal.”

The Department of Aging has worked closely with the Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) during the mitigation efforts. This has included communicating regularly, sharing updates on COVID-19 related developments and ensuring crucial information and services are still reaching older adults in need. In preparation for Pennsylvania’s phased-in reopening, we created workgroups and engaged AAAs to develop procedures and best practices for resuming operations of adult day centers, senior community centers, aging services that involve consumer in-person contacts and in-home visits, and protective services. This was done with the overriding objective of ensuring the health and safety of participants and staff.

We recognize that there is not a “one-size-fits-all” approach to reopening these centers. The process of reopening will be conducted gradually, strategically and cautiously, while allowing flexibility at the local level to keep older adults and staff safe. Our ongoing support for the AAAs will focus on working within the existing guidance to make service and activity decisions that fit their individual capacities and situations. 

Protecting older adults from abuse, neglect, exploitation and abandonment is a top priority for the department. This includes raising awareness of abuse and how to report a need for protective services to help protect older adults. June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, aimed at promoting a better understanding of abuse and neglect and its effects. The Department of Aging’s 24-Hour Report Abuse Hotline is available for anyone to call if they suspect an older adult is being abused. The number is 1-800-490-8505.

In addition to protecting and serving the needs of older adults, the department is working to complete its four-year State Plan on Aging for 2020-2024. The state plan is designed to help Pennsylvania meet the objectives of the Older Americans Act and will be submitted to the Administration for Community Living (ACL) containing a vision and direction for Pennsylvania’s network of aging services. During June, we will host a Statewide Virtual Community Forum to present the proposed plan and seek public input. We will also release an online survey to gather information on topics that impact our programs and that are important to our consumers. A dedicated team from our department is also reviewing four-year plans submitted by the 52 AAAs.

As we transition away from the state of emergency and move toward the “new normal,” I would like to thank every one of you for your never-ending commitment to serving older adults. Together, we have faced some challenges, worked through them and learned some valuable lessons that will help us rethink how we deliver services now and for years to come.



Robert Torres
Secretary of Aging
Partnership Provides Cell Phones and Tablets to Long-Term Care Facilities

The Department of Aging’s Office of Long-Term Care Ombudsman has partnered with AARP Pennsylvania to provide communication devices to long-term care facilities that will help residents increase contact with their family and friends.

With support from the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging, this pilot program will provide cell phones and tablets to 46 skilled nursing facilities in 40 counties where resident advocates known as Pennsylvania Empowered Expert Residents (PEERs) or a facility’s staff member had expressed a need for phones/tablets and have made a commitment to support the appropriate use of the devices. Nineteen devices will go to facilities identified as Special Focus Facilities by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and/or are operating under provisional licenses.

The department and AARP will distribute the activated devices to the targeted facilities utilizing PEERs, resident councils and other resident leaders and nursing home activities directors to implement this project.

LeadingAge PA and the Pennsylvania Health Care Association have also voiced their support for this project.

Connecting with LGBTQ Older Adults

June marks LGBTQ Pride Month, honoring the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969. Though the LGBTQ community is more visible today, many LGBTQ older adults grew up in a world where their identity was socially unacceptable.

Having faced a lifetime of interpersonal, institutional and systemic discrimination in housing, employment and health care, LGBTQ older adults experience greater health disparities, social isolation and lack of support. They are twice as likely to be single and live alone, and four times as likely to not have children, creating even greater challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Our partners at SAGE have established a program to help with social isolation among LGBTQ older adults in Pennsylvania. SAGEConnect matches LGBTQ older adults with volunteer community members and allies for a weekly phone or video call. Volunteers will be screened and offered training before receiving their match and must commit to a minimum of one 15-minute call per week, for a period of six weeks.  
If you would like to volunteer, you can enroll on the SAGE website. If you have any questions or concerns, you can email
Resource for People with Loved Ones in Long-Term Care

Launched last month, Virtual Family Council lets families virtually connect with a local ombudsman and other experts to ask questions and discuss protocols, rights and procedures for their loved ones in long-term care facilities. Due to the amount of interest the first meetings received, they are now being held weekly.
Again, anyone interested in joining the meetings can email and indicate “Virtual Family Council” in the subject line. They will receive an automatic email reply with instructions on how to connect and the link for the meetings.

We wanted to share with you some wonderful and heartwarming acts of kindness taking place throughout parts of Pennsylvania to help prevent social isolation among older adults during the COVID-19 emergency.

Here is a video featuring letters from children at Turbotville Elementary in Northumberland County to nursing facility residents. It started as a writing project that turned into an opportunity to share some love with others during these unpredictable times.

In Lackawanna County, a nonprofit has launched a social media campaign for people to share photos and videos of how they are helping out their older neighbors while practicing social distancing.

Staying Home and Learning Virtually

In previous Inside Aging newsletters, we discussed how older adults can stay connected under stay-at-home orders during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Through technology like Skype, WebEx and Zoom and using Facetime, email, text and call, older Pennsylvanians can fight isolation and reduce feelings of depression while staying engaged and connecting with loved ones and friends.

We discovered a great program that offers interactive classes and some companionship for older adults in the Pittsburgh region. The Virtual Senior Academy holds weekly sessions on topics such as health and wellness, history and the arts, book clubs, music and more for people 50 years of age and older.

To learn more or to sign up, visit the Virtual Senior Academy website.
Protecting Older Pennsylvanians from Abuse
June 15 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, launched by the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization. It aims to promote a better understanding of abuse and neglect and its effects.

According to the Administration for Community Living, an estimated five million older adults are abused, neglected, or exploited each year. Older Americans lose an estimated $2.6 billion or more annually due to elder financial abuse and exploitation.

The Department of Aging is committed to protecting all older Pennsylvanians from abuse and neglect. If you suspect an older adult is a victim of abuse, please contact our 24-hour hotline at 1-800-490-8505.
Ombudsmen at Work
State LTC Ombudsman Margaret Barajas, along with Regional Ombudsman Specialists Dorrie Taylor and Kandy Schreffler (pictured), coordinated with the Departments of Health and Human Services to assist COVID-19 negative residents in relocation from a facility where 70% of the residents and staff tested positive for the virus. The 86-degree heat on this May day made Personal Protective Equipment a bit of a challenge, but these helping heroes were not to be stopped! 

Calls for Easier Accessibility for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program

Department of Aging Secretary Robert Torres and Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding have called on Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation to take legislative action to enable Pennsylvania's older adults to access the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program during the mitigation effort.

Under federal regulations, older adults must apply for the program, verify their income and household size, and receive the vouchers at their local senior center or their county area agency on aging. Since these facilities are currently closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the secretaries are requesting that eligible older adults be permitted to complete their application over the phone or electronically and receive their vouchers in the mail.  

Secretaries Torres and Redding also called for additional administrative funds to cover costs incurred by farmers and partner agencies for mailing vouchers and other required materials.

 The House considered the following aging-related bills: 
  • House Bill 400 (Klunk) – Amends Title 18 (Crimes and Offenses) regarding abuse of a care-dependent person to include a misdemeanor offense for abuse via social media 
  • House Bill 2509 (Day) – Establishes the Long-Term Care Facility Personal Protective Equipment Reimbursement Grant Program to be administered by the Department of Aging. 
The Senate considered the following aging-related bills: 
  • House Bill 1076 (Hennessey) – Senior Tax Reduction Incentive Volunteer Exchange Program Act
  • This bill was signed by the Governor and is now Act 20 of 2020. 
Due to uncertainty in future revenues, the House and Senate passed an early budget that funds most agencies for five months. The Department of Aging received a full year of funding. Below are the appropriations and fiscal code bills the Governor signed: Hearings
  • On Wednesday, May 6, the Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing on nursing homes and COVID-19.
  • On Thursday, May 7, the Senate Aging & Youth and Health & Human Services Committees held a joint hearing on long-term care facilities and COVID-19.
  • On Thursday, May 7, the House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee held an informational meeting on long-term care facilities and COVID-19.
  • On Thursday, May 21, the House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee held an informational meeting on protocols in long-term care facilities.
The House and Senate are scheduled to return to session on Monday, June 8. It is unclear if the General Assembly will keep the previously scheduled June session days since that time is typically used to finalize the budget.
On Thursday, June 4, the House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee will hold an informational meeting on the Ombudsman program. Our Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Margaret Barajas, will be participating.
The House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee plans to hold informational hearings every Thursday. Future topics have not been finalized.
PA Link Receives $3 Million in Federal Funding

The Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRC) Office received $3 million from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living to support efforts to mitigate and respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ADRC, also known as the PA Link to Aging and Disability Resources, is a statewide program that provides information and referral services to older adults and individuals with disabilities. This program helps individuals with activities of daily living by connecting them with medical and non-medical supports and services.

The PA Link will use the grant funds to administer the following activities:
  • Implement e-services for PA Link staff and partners to improve business operations related to accessing PA Link programs.
  • Assist those most at risk of COVID-19 who are seeking transitional support from hospital or nursing home to a home setting.
  • Collaborate with local grocery stores, restaurants and/or online/mobile food order and delivery services to provide delivered groceries and food.
  • Help older adults, individuals with disabilities, caregivers and care providers learn how to use telehealth technologies to provide and receive needed services. The Department will partner with the Assistive Technology Act program to provide assistive technology assessments, devices and training.
  • Provide personal protective equipment for community partners to ensure in-home supports can be maintained safely.
  • Marketing of PA Link Helpline and Outreach.
  • Provide individuals with the ability to request periodic check-in calls by trained staff and increase awareness of low-cost programs that connect individuals through broadband and telecommunication equipment.
  • Increase the capacity of the PA Link network partners to respond to requests from individuals in need of resource information, assistance with referrals and person-centered counseling. 
Consumers, family members, caregivers and providers, can contact the PA Link through the helpline,1-800-753-8827, or at the Department of Aging’s website.  
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