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Making Sure Every Older Adult is Fed – and Counted

September is Hunger Action Month. It was established by Feeding America in 2008 when the organization decided to take action on the hunger crisis across the country. Here in the commonwealth, nearly 6% of older adults face food insecurity. With many on a fixed income, they face the harsh reality of balancing expenses related to their basic needs such as meals, medications, rent and other essential needs.

Older adults who face food insecurity have diets that are less nutritious, experience worse health outcomes and suffer from higher risk of depression. The COVID-19 pandemic created challenges for older adults to get food due to concerns of contracting the virus while going to the store. Many of them relied on family and friends to purchase their groceries or get them delivered directly from the store. The Department of Aging responded by issuing guidance for the Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) to support Senior Community Centers with options to continue offering meals to vulnerable older adults who might be at risk due to missing congregate meals while senior centers remain closed. Those options include meal delivery, pickup, grab-and-go, or enrolling participants in the OPTIONS Program for in-home meal service.

Food banks across the commonwealth have seen a huge increase in the number of families and older adults in need of their services. These facilities provide food packages to aging adults through the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP), a monthly program of the United States Department of Agriculture. The packages are available to people aged 60 years and older who qualify based on their income level. 

The Central Pennsylvania Food Bank, which distributes food to 27 counties, administers another program directly for seniors called ElderShare. This is in addition to any other food assistance older adults may receive, but they cannot receive the CSFP. Last year, the food bank distributed 68,000 senior boxes to more than 8,500 older Pennsylvanians through the program.

To promote and provide additional nutritional support, the Department of Aging is always encouraging older adults to visit their local AAA to receive their vouchers for the Senior Farmers Market Nutritional Program that starts at the beginning of June every year. This program helps vulnerable adults to access fresh, nutritious food grown in their own community and helps them to live healthy lives.

Along with the assistance from the voucher program and the food banks, many older adults rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to purchase their food at grocery stores and supermarkets. There are currently about 300,000 older adults who are receiving SNAP benefits in Pennsylvania, and the Department of Aging is collaborating with the Department of Human Services to increase senior participation in the program to ensure no older adult misses a meal. Those who are enrolled in SNAP are healthier, hospitalized less, and are less likely to go into a nursing home or other long-term care facility.

SNAP and other nutrition services, along with Medicaid and Medicare Part B, are just some of the many programs benefiting older adults in Pennsylvania that are funded by federal dollars. This funding is allocated to states and municipalities based on the population count through the U.S. Census. A complete count in the Census also determines how many seats each state gets in the U.S. House of Representatives. Pennsylvania currently has 18 Congressional representatives after losing one following the 2010 Census.

According to the latest numbers from the Department of Community and Economic Development, Pennsylvania’s self-response rate to the Census is about 67% compared to 64% nationwide. The lowest response rates by county hit all corners of the commonwealth, including Philadelphia, Allegheny, York, Cameron and Monroe counties.

Achieving a complete and accurate count is critical for Pennsylvania’s future. I hope everyone will join me in getting the word out to encourage all Pennsylvanians, particularly older adults, to participate in the 2020 Census. We are a little less than a month away from the September 30 deadline. You can check out the U.S. Census Bureau's Response Rate Map to see your county or city’s participation rate. For updated resources to support your census outreach, visit the Pennsylvania Census website. There you will find images for social media, along with posters and flyers to print out and distribute to support your efforts. Thank you, in advance, for your time and consideration in helping the commonwealth complete an accurate census that will serve us well over the next 10 years.
 
Sincerely,


 

Robert Torres
Secretary of Aging

APPRISE Program Preparing for Medicare Open Enrollment

APPRISE is getting ready for the annual Medicare Open Enrollment Period that begins
October 15 and ends December 7. The program completed readiness activities and is fully prepared to offer appointments for counseling to be conducted over the phone, virtually, or, at the discretion of the Area Agencies on Aging, face-to-face with proper health and safety precautions in place.

Over the summer, APPRISE held virtual training sessions and welcomed 45 new counselors to help guide Medicare-eligible older Pennsylvanians, their families and caregivers in making informed health insurance decisions that optimize cost-savings and access to health care and benefits.

Prior to the Medicare Open Enrollment Period, APPRISE staff and volunteer counselors will review the enrollment time frame and what beneficiaries are able to do during this time, the mailings that beneficiaries will receive in September and what their purpose is, the responsibilities for each county and the crucial Medicare updates for 2021. 

Visit the Department of Aging’s website for more information about APPRISE and Medicare coverage.

Protecting Older Adults from Contact Tracing Scams

As COVID-19 remains a threat in the commonwealth, the Department of Aging is joining the Department of Health to warn everyone, especially older adults, about contact tracing scams.

Contact tracing is the process of identifying people who came into contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19 so that they can quarantine and monitor for symptoms. Scammers are attempting to take advantage of how this process works by pretending to be contact tracers and trying to get personal information out of victims through phone calls or electronic messages.

A contact tracer may ask:

  • For verification of someone’s date of birth, address, and any other phone numbers they may have; and
  • If someone has already tested positive for COVID-19, they may also ask for the date and location of where that person was tested.
A contact tracer will never ask for:
  • Social security numbers, financial or bank account information, or personal details unrelated to a person’s potential exposure to someone with COVID-19;
  • Personal information through SMS/text message or send someone to any website link asking for personal information;
  • Photographs or videos of any kind;
  • Passwords; or
  • Money or payment. 

A contact tracer will never share a person’s information with any local, state or federal law enforcement agency.

For more information about the contact tracing process, visit the Department of Health’s website.

SHARE Program Expands Affordable Housing, Companionship Opportunities for Older Adults

A PDA program that brings together older homeowners and single people seeking a place to live has expanded from northeastern Pennsylvania to other parts of the commonwealth.

The Shared Housing and Resource Exchange (SHARE) program started in 2017 in Monroe, Pike and Wayne counties to pair up homeowners who want to remain in their homes, may want some companionship and are willing to share their homes with someone who is looking for housing in exchange for rent, helping around the house, or both. With the success of the pilot program, SHARE has now expanded to serve Crawford and Venango counties in northwestern Pennsylvania, and Snyder and Union counties in central Pennsylvania.

Both the homeowner and the potential occupant are vetted to ensure the chemistry is right. SHARE coordinates a written home-sharing agreement, provides trial living periods and offers support for the duration of the contract.

The SHARE program was recently featured on a local television station in NEPA. Visit WNEP’s website to check out the story.

2020 Census Deadline is Sept. 30

Our final Census count determines federal funding for critical programs supporting our older adults and families - including Medicaid, Medicare Part B, Nutrition Services, SNAP, and more.

With just under a month left until the 2020 Census ends, please continue to encourage your community to participate. Check out the U.S. Census Bureau's Response Rate Map to see your county or city’s participation rate. For updated resources to support your census outreach, visit the Pennsylvania Census website.
Falls Prevention Awareness Week

Governor Wolf presented the Department of Aging with a proclamation, declaring the week of September 21-25, 2020 as Falls Prevention Awareness Week in Pennsylvania. It coincided with the nationwide declaration by the National Council on Aging.

According to the PA Department of Health, falls are the leading cause of fatal and nonfatal injuries among people 65 and older in the commonwealth, accounting for 67.5% of fatal traumatic brain and injuries, and resulting in 1,606 deaths and 57,727 hospitalizations in 2018. 

The Department of Aging’s website provides some great resources for older adults on how to assess their risk for falls and how to prevent them.

Make Your Vote Count in Pennsylvania’s General Election

Whether voting by mail or at the polls, it’s important that everyone makes their vote count. With the increasing number of people looking to vote by mail-in ballot, applying as soon as possible is crucial to ensure it’s received by their county board of election in time.

Here are some important dates:

  • Nov. 3 is the date for Pennsylvania’s general election.  
  • Oct. 19 is now the last day to register to vote, and you can now do so online.
  • Oct. 27 at 5 p.m. is the last day to apply for a mail-in or civilian absentee ballot.
  • Nov. 3 is the last day mail-in and civilian absentee ballots can be received. The cut-off time is 8 p.m.

Visit Votes.pa for more information and to apply for a mail-in or absentee ballot.

Spotlighting Effort to Provide Broadband in Rural Communities

July’s Inside Aging featured an article on the critical need to expand broadband internet in Pennsylvania. Part of the article focused on a program called Tri-Co Connections, a subsidiary of Tri-County Rural Electric Cooperative, Inc. in northern Pennsylvania. The program began in Potter County, and is looking to expand in seven other northern counties. It is not only working to provide internet service in rural communities, but is also recruiting high school seniors to help older adults become familiar and comfortable with using technology to stay connected and engaged.

This program was recently highlighted during a nationwide web conference on how essential broadband is in rural areas. Program leaders spoke about the collaboration with local businesses and aging services organizations; how it is going about offering the training; and the benefits to older adults, including tele-medicine, communicating with family and friends, and accessing services online.

The push for high-speed internet everywhere in Pennsylvania is a part of Governor Wolf’s Restore Pennsylvania initiative that addresses the commonwealth’s vital infrastructure needs.
LOOKING BACK

There were no session days and the General Assembly did not host any Aging-related hearings in August.

LOOKING AHEAD

The House will return to session Tuesday, September 1 and the Senate will return Tuesday, September 8.

On Wednesday, September 23, the Senate Aging & Youth Committee will host an informational hearing on the Pennsylvania Caregiver Support Program (CSP). The department will be providing an overview of CSP and advocating for legislative changes. The purpose of CSP is to alleviate the stress associated with caregiving by supporting the caregiver through respite and, when needed, to provide financial reimbursement for caregiving-related services and supplies. The department is proposing to remove the statutory CSP monthly care plan cost cap and CSP home modification lifetime limit, allowing them to be set by the department, and remove the $300 aggregate average requirement for all CSP cases. Rep. Boback’s House Bill 2684 would make these changes.

The department continues to advocate for an update to the Older Adults Protective Services Act (OAPSA). For more than three decades, OAPSA has served as the cornerstone of Pennsylvania’s system for protecting the health, safety, and welfare of older adults who are at imminent risk of abuse, neglect, exploitation, and abandonment. The department supports an OAPSA update that includes background checks for all employees of long-term care facilities, expanding who should be considered a mandatory reporter of abuse, and working with financial institutions to prevent financial exploitation. Sen. Mensch’s Senate Bill 819 includes these important updates. The bill passed unanimously in the Senate in October and is currently in the House Aging and Older Adult Services Committee. The department fully supports S.B. 819.
The department would like to acknowledge and thank Sen. Mensch for partnering with Dementia Friends Pennsylvania to host a virtual Dementia Friends training on Thursday, October 29.

Attendees of the free one-hour information session can learn about what life could be like for people living with dementia and how to help them integrate with the community. PDA encourages other elected officials to consider hosting a Dementia Friends training!
AAA Helps Older Adults Age in Place

The Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging was recently joined by local and state officials for a ribbon-cutting to commemorate the second Elder Care Housing Opportunity (ECHO) cottage in the county. ECHO cottages are small, separate homes placed in the yard of a family for an aging adult. It is a way to allow an older family member to age in place the way they choose while being happy, healthy and independent.

The cottages are a vision of CCAAA’s CEO Kathy Gillespie with assistance from Director of Business Development, Julie Fenton. ECHO housing is just one of several housing options made possible by the Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging. Other options include Shared Homes, numerous rentals and the innovative Village of Hope.

The Pennsylvania Housing Finance Agency provided the funding for the project as part of the PHARE Funding Program.
Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Council Update

The Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Council (LTCC) met remotely via WebEx on August 20 due to the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. During the meeting, Deputy Secretary Andrew Sharp from the Governor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs provided an update on COVID-19-related stakeholder engagement, and Keara Klinepeter, Special Advisor to Secretary of Health Rachel Levine, discussed the COVID-19 skilled nursing facility guidance process and related updates.

The Departments of Aging, Human Services, Insurance, and Military and Veterans Affairs also provided COVID-19 and long-term care-related updates.

Councilmember Dr. David Nace, who serves as a member of the White House Coronavirus Commission for Safety and Quality in Nursing Homes, gave an overview of the commission and its timeline.

Lastly, Denise Getgen, who serves as the Department of Aging’s Director of Protective Services provided a presentation on the department’s online mandatory abuse reporting training, which was released in June.

Click here to view the meeting handouts. The council’s next meeting will be held on October 8. Due to the current COVID-19 situation, the location/format is to be determined.

OLTL will be submitting the amendments to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) in October.
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