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Giving Older Adults Their Best Shot at Good Health

One of our main activities at the Department of Aging is to provide supports that help older adults live independently and productively. Good preventive health is key to maintaining that independence and vitality.

Vaccination is one of the most convenient and safest preventive care measures available and is essential throughout a person’s entire life. Older adults need to keep their vaccinations up to date because immunity from the vaccines can wear off as they age, making them vulnerable to sickness and disease. It is especially important for seniors with chronic health conditions, like diabetes, asthma or heart disease to stay current with their vaccinations.

Older Pennsylvanians can receive most of the recommended vaccines at their doctor’s office, but they may also be available at their local pharmacies, health centers, health departments and urgent care center. In addition, they may be able to get their flu shot at a local senior center. Seniors should contact their local Area Agency on Aging for the nearest location. A list of the recommended vaccines can be found on the department’s website.
 
Seniors should check with their doctor during routine visits to receive all needed vaccinations. They should also consult with their physician on which vaccinations they may not need or should wait to get due to their age, health conditions or other factors. Staying up to date on vaccinations is vital, and it’s also important to learn which inoculations are covered by their health care insurance.
 
Pennsylvania’s prescription assistance program for older adults, PACE and PACENET, offers immunizations to qualified residents age 65 and older. Eligible seniors who are currently not receiving benefits from PACE and PACENET can learn how to sign up by visiting the Department of Aging’s website.
 
Medicare generally covers the flu and most recommended vaccines, but depending on a person’s plan, there may be out-of-pocket costs for some. The Medicare annual open enrollment period begins October 15 and continues through December 7 with any new coverage selected going into effect on January 1, 2021. During this period of time, older adults may review and join a Medicare plan, or make changes to their current Medicare or Prescription Drug Coverage plan.
 
In order to help Medicare beneficiaries sort through their options, the Department of Aging offers health benefits counseling through the APPRISE Program, which is designed to counsel and encourage Medicare-eligible individuals, their families, and caregivers to make informed health care coverage decisions. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, counseling sessions will 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.
 
With almost 800 trained counselors in the commonwealth, the APPRISE Program provides free, confidential, objective, and easy-to-understand information about Medicare Advantage Plans, prescription drug plans, and Medicare Supplement plans, and allows Medicare beneficiaries to compare plans and determine what options best meet their needs. To learn more about the APPRISE Program, visit the Department of Aging’s website.

Finally, on October 1 the Department’s new four-year State Plan on Aging went into effect. It contains five goals that are designed to strengthen our ability to better serve and be responsive to the needs of older adults over the next four years and beyond. You can review the plan by going to PDA’s website. I would like to thank everyone who provided feedback to help shape this plan, and for your continued dedication and support in serving older adults. We certainly could not do it without the help of our staff, AAA network, and all of our community partners and stakeholders.

 
Sincerely,
      

 
Robert Torres
Secretary of Aging
2020 Census Deadline Extended to October 31 

The deadline to participate in the 2020 Census has now been extended until October 31.

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 less than a month 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.

Voting Safely in the November 3 General Election

The Department of Aging is encouraging older adults to be informed about their options for voting in the November 3 General Election if they are concerned about being able to vote safely amid COVID-19.
Older adults who are interested in voting by mail-in ballot should apply for one as soon as possible at votesPA.com.


Here are some guidelines for voting by mail-in ballot:

  • Read the ballot and instructions carefully.
  • Pay attention to where you place your pen. Don’t rest it on the ballot as it could potentially make an unintended mark somewhere and the tabulator will not read it correctly, or the pen could accidentally mark a candidate for whom you didn’t want to vote.
  • Return the ballot by mail or in person to your county Board of Elections or officially designated drop-off site as soon as possible.
  • Be sure to place your ballot in the inner secrecy envelope and then put the secrecy envelope into the outer return envelope, which you must sign. County election officials will not count your ballot if it is returned without both envelopes. Be sure to sign the declaration on the outer envelope so the ballot will be counted.

In addition, Pennsylvania voters now have the option of voting in person at their county election office before Election Day. They should go to their county election office, request a ballot, fill it out and submit it – all in the same visit. Find a county election office by visiting the Department of State’s website.

For older Pennsylvanians who are looking to vote at their polling place on Election Day, the polls will be open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. They should wear a mask, bring their own pen and follow social distancing guidelines. The Pennsylvania Department of State is supplying counties with masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, floor marking tape and other supplies for polling places so Pennsylvanians can safely exercise their right to vote during this COVID-19 emergency.

Older adults can check the status of their voter registration by visiting votespa.com or by calling 877-VOTESPA (868-3772). Pennsylvania law now allows residents to register to vote up to
15 days before Election Day. The deadline to register to vote in the November election is October 19. Absentee and mail-in ballots must be returned by 8 p.m. on Election Day.

PDA Releases Study on Financial Exploitation of Older Pennsylvanians

The Department of Aging recently announced the findings of its study on financial exploitation of older adults in the commonwealth. The study was conducted in response to Governor Wolf’s Executive Order on protecting vulnerable populations, which he signed in July 2019.

The study included an independent audit of 446 case files from 10 Area Agencies on Aging covering 14 counties containing the largest number of substantiated financial exploitation cases during the fiscal year 2017-18. The audit examined the types of financial exploitation that occurred, the combined amount lost, and the financial impact of these losses on the victims, the economy and the commonwealth. The study also reviewed financial exploitation studies conducted by three other states, as well as academic literature published on the topic.
 
The following are some of the highlights from the study:

  • The majority of the victims were female, lived in urban communities, non-Hispanic, widowed and lived alone. The average age was 79.
  • Many of the perpetrators were family members, most often an adult child or grandchild.
  • The average loss to each victim studied was almost $40,000, totaling close to 
    $12.5 million. With 1,488 total financial exploitation cases substantiated statewide, older Pennsylvanians collectively suffered an estimated loss of $58 million dollars during fiscal year 2017-2018 to financial exploitation in reported cases alone.
  • Unauthorized bank withdrawals constituted the largest percentage of total loss, with more than $5 million or 46% in the sampled cases lost to withdrawals via ATM, debit cards and checks. Scams constituted 28% of the total loss and included romantic and lottery-based scams.
  • 322 older adults in the study enrolled in Medicaid after their first reported incident of financial exploitation.

You can read the report, including the department’s recommendations on how to prevent further financial exploitation in Pennsylvania, on the Department of Aging's website.

Help Protect Older Adults from SNAP Scams

The Department of Human Services (DHS) is alerting Pennsylvanians of a potential text messaging scam involving the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). People may be receiving fake texts informing them that they have been selected to receive assistance through SNAP.

DHS and other government agencies do not and will not solicit participation in any public assistance programs via text, and anyone who is contacted in this manner should not reply or share any personal information.

Older adults who may need help with purchasing or affording food may be eligible for SNAP and other public assistance programs. They can apply by visiting the COMPASS website.

Be Alert to Lottery Scams

The Pennsylvania Lottery has a warning about a scam in which people are receiving a call saying they won a fake Mega Millions sweepstakes or that they won a prize from another well-known lottery game.

The suspect encourages the person on the other end of the call to make a payment for taxes or other costs to facilitate the processing of the prize, which ends up never being paid.

Pennsylvania Lottery officials remind everyone that they never contact people at random. The lottery only contacts players if they have won a Second-Chance Drawing, a giveaway into which a player submitted an entry, or to collect their winning story.

Residents' Rights Month

October is National Residents’ Rights Month, a time to focus on the dignity, rights and value of each resident living in a skilled nursing facility or personal care home. PDA is using this month to highlight the work of the Office of the Long-Term Care Ombudsman and how it supports older Pennsylvanians living in facilities. 

Ombudsman staff and volunteers have remained on the front lines to serve residents before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among their many activities, they have: 
  • Provided voting rights and registration information for residents in long-term care facilities.
  • Recently welcomed four new Pennsylvania Empowered Expert Residents (PEERs) in Allegheny County. PEERs are trained advocates who, because they live within a long-term care community, are experts in making recommendations on improving the living conditions within their own homes and facilities.
  • Partnered with AARP Pennsylvania to provide communication devices to 46 long-term care facilities in 40 counties to help residents increase contact with their family and friends.
  • Created a statewide resource called Virtual Family Council, a weekly program for family and friends who are unable to see loved ones in facilities due to COVID-19. People can talk with a local ombudsman and a team of experts and ask questions, share concerns, or just listen to learn and gather information. Learn more about the council by visiting the PA Long-Term Care Virtual Family Council Facebook page
Thank you to all of the volunteers for dedicating their time to preserve and protect the rights of residents across the commonwealth!

Help Prevent the Spread with the
COVID-19 App

The Department of Health has launched a free COVID Alert PA app to notify 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.

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

The COVID Alert PA works with similar apps in New Jersey, New York, and Delaware, so anyone who has the app in these states can get a notification from another user if they tested positive.

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

Advocating for Suicide Prevention among Older Pennsylvanians  

The Department of Aging is part of the statewide Suicide Prevention Task Force that was formed in 2019. The task force developed and released a Statewide Suicide Prevention Plan, a four-year strategy to reduce suicide in Pennsylvania by fighting stigma, increasing training and supporting clinical practices and treatments to prevent suicide and help those who are struggling.

Suicide prevention is very relevant to the department because of its role in advocating for and serving older Pennsylvanians who are more prone to social isolation and depression than any other age group. Because of their vulnerability, older adults are at a much higher risk of suicide as they age.

According to the CDC, men who are 65 and older face the highest risk of suicide, while adults 85 and older, regardless of gender, are the second most likely age group to die from suicide. It is higher in white older adults than in people of color. LGBTQ older adults have a higher suicide rate than their hetero peers, most likely because of facing a lifetime of discrimination and victimization based on their sexual orientation.

PDA provides help through the Aging and Disability Resources Centers, known as PA Link, for older adults who feel they want to end their lives. Visit the department’s website for more information.

You can read the plan by visiting the Department of Human Services’ website.

New Website Offers Help to Kinship Caregivers    

Grandparents raising grandchildren are among the most common type of kinship caregiver in Pennsylvania, but kinship care families also can include an aunt or uncle, adult sibling, or a non-relative caregiver such as a close family friend raising a child when their parents cannot care for them. 

The Departments of Aging and Human Services have launched 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 that can be reached by calling 1-866-KIN-2111 (1-866-546-2111) It is available from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday. The KinConnector helpline can support callers needing assistance in English and Spanish.

LOOKING BACK

House Legislative Activity
  • House Bill 2792 (Thomas) – Long-term care medical director registry
  • House Bill 2861 (Rapp) – Access to long-term care facilities for essential caregivers
House Hearings

On September 11, the House Democratic Policy Committee held a public hearing on COVID-19’s impact in nursing homes and congregate care facilities.


Senate Legislative Activity
  • Senate Bill 1268 (Ward) – Certification of COVID-19 temporary nurse aides
  • Senate Bill 1279 (Mensch) – Essential family caregivers in facilities during disaster emergencies
Senate Hearings

On September 23, the Senate Aging & Youth Committee held an informational meeting on the Pennsylvania Caregiver Support Program.

LOOKING AHEAD
The Senate will return to session Monday, October 5 and the House will return Monday,
October 19.
PDA would like to thank AARP, Alzheimer’s Association, and Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging (P4A) for their support of Rep. Boback’s House Bill 2684. This legislation would amend the Pennsylvania Caregiver Support Act by removing the statutory Caregiver Support Program (CSP) monthly care plan cost cap and CSP home modification lifetime limit, allowing them to be set by the department, and removing the $300 aggregate average requirement for all CSP cases.

We encourage other organizations and individuals to contact your state representative or the House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee to voice your support of H.B. 2684!

Feeding Older Adults in Need  

  

To support Hunger Action Month, Secretary Robert Torres, Deputy Secretary Steven Horner and some PDA staff members packed food boxes for the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank to distribute.  

The food bank provides the packages through two programs benefiting older adults: The Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) and ElderShare.

For more information, visit the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank’s website.

Keystone Games Provides Seniors a Way to Stay Active

The Department of Aging is proud to partner with Keystone Games and the PA Senior Games as a way for older adults to stay active, healthy and connected. This year, the organizations have joined with K.A.R.E.S (Keystone Athletic, Recreation and Esports) to offer a virtual race.


Older adults can join in by doing the following: 

• Register for the Keystone Games 5K Run/Walk on the Keystone Games’ Website.
• Complete a 5K (3.1 miles) run or walk any time now until October 31. Simply run or walk any place that works for them.
 • They will receive their official Keystone Games 5K Run/Walk & Esports Challenge T-Shirt and finisher medal (packages will ship beginning October 19). They just need to send in their results through the online form on the Keystone Games’ website.
• Begin practicing for their Esports Competition Challenge (an email with instructions and selected games for competition will be sent).
• Compete in the Esports Challenge online from October 16, 2020 to October 31, 2020.
For more information, visit the Keystone Games’ website.
Upcoming Training Opportunities

Dementia Friends PA Information Training Sessions
  • Thursday, October 15 at 10 a.m.
  • Tuesday, October 27 at 10 a.m.
  • Wednesday, November 18 at 10 a.m.
Communities across Pennsylvania utilize the Dementia Friends curriculum as the vehicle through which community members gain the increased knowledge and awareness necessary to decrease stigma among all community members and to better support those living with dementia.

Invite: https://mailchi.mp/22317594f217/save-the-date-apprise-conference-april-5035522
Register: https://www.jotform.com/P4Aadmin/dementiafriendspa

Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP Training)
  • Tuesday, October 13 from 9 a.m. to noon
This year’s program will virtually review the progress towards PY 2019 targets and COVID-19.
  • Updates on PY 2020 targets and site visit observations.
  • AARP Foundation Computer-based Training and optional Individual Employment Plan session. 
Invite: https://mailchi.mp/ffce77072f2f/save-the-date-protective-services-conference-5045978
Register: https://form.jotform.com/P4Aadmin/scsep11132020
Financial Protection Virtual Events Coming Up

The Department of Banking and Securities will host and participate in virtual presentations for groups of older adults throughout the month of October.

These events are held to promote financial capability as part of Governor Wolf’s Consumer Financial Initiative. You can read about that on the governor’s website.

Virtual Events for Senior Citizens

Virtual 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.
  • Columbia Senior Center (Lancaster County) on Tuesday, October 6 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Open to Senior Center Members. To register call 717-684-4850.
  • Southern Blair Senior Center (Blair County) on Thursday, October 15 from 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Open to Senior Center Members. To register call 814-317-5181.
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.
  • Columbia Senior Center (Lancaster County) on Wednesday, October 14 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Open to Senior Center Members. To register call 717-684-4850.
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.
  • Columbia Senior Center (Lancaster County) on Tuesday, October 20 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Open to Senior Center Members. To register call 717-684-4850.
Consumers and community groups can call 1-800-PA-BANKS or email informed@pa.gov for more information.
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