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IN THIS ISSUE: A Message from the Secretary: Healthy Lives and Hearts for Older Black Pennsylvanians | COVID-19: Vaccine Rollout Resources, State Ombudsman Shares Inspiration, Supporting Long-Term Care Facilities | Focus onPDA Pilot Program - Student Experiences | What's New: In the Commonwealth - PDA to Participate in National Leadership Academy, Grants Awarded to Senior Centers, Direct Care Worker Training Grants, Property Tax/Rent Rebate Apps Now Online and LTC Resident Stimulus Checks | Event Info: Virtual Events for Older Adults - Webinars on Black Mental Health, SOLO Small Group Sessions, Family Council, LGBTQ Caregiver Conference & More | Applause Please: Congrats & Kudos! - Senior Butter Sculpture Winners, JCC Senior Art Club: 20-Week Art Journey | Update On: Legislation | Contact Us |  
Photo of Secretary TorresHealthy Lives and Hearts for Older Black Pennsylvanians

February is designated as Black History Month with this year’s theme of the Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity. Black History Month is a time to learn, understand, recognize and honor the triumphs, struggles and sacrifices made by the African American community and the Black family. As the Department of Aging works to advance our diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, it is essential for us, our network of Area Agencies on Aging, partners and stakeholders to understand the dynamics of the Black family and other diverse communities to ensure we are being effective in our outreach and responsive in the delivery of our services to Black seniors and their families.  
As we reflect on COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on people of color, we need to recognize health disparities in minorities, magnified by this pandemic, are rooted in long term systemic discrimination and inequities that must be addressed to better support Black families and the African American community at large. In addition, dealing with trauma caused by issues like poverty, abuse, instability and inequities can create a heavy burden on a person’s mental health. Later this month, the Pennsylvania Care Partnership will host a two-part webinar series in honor of Black History Month with a focus on how racism impacts mental health. This free webinar will be an interactive presentation with a question and answer session, and you can read more about this webinar in this newsletter. 

Health and mental health disparities impact Black older adults in the commonwealth and across the country. The Kaiser Family Foundation stresses the importance of looking at social determinants, such as where people are born, live, work, and age that contribute to poor health status and health outcomes. Lifting up the African American community by addressing factors like socioeconomic status, education, neighborhood and physical environment, social support networks and access to health care all can play a significant role in reducing long-standing health disparities and improving health outcomes. 
In the Department’s new four-year State Plan on Aging, we have made a commitment to serving older adults on a more holistic basis by achieving better coordination and alignment of health care and social services, including improving outreach and services for diverse communities. As a result, we have trained our whole Department to become more aware of how bias, systemic racism and historical inequities affect people of color as they age. These are issues we identified in our State Plan as important issues in Pennsylvania because of the growing and diversifying older adult population. 

February is also designated as American Heart Month – a great opportunity for Black seniors and families to learn about their heart health. This is particularly important since they are generally at higher risk for stroke, high blood pressure and heart diseases. There are some steps that Black older adults – indeed all older adults – can consider to improve their heart health. These include taking aspirin daily, keeping their blood pressure in check, managing their cholesterol, dieting and exercising.  

February 8-12 is Hunger Action Week. Hunger and food insecurity impact older adults. According to a 2020 report by the America’s Health Rankings, food insecurity among seniors is expected to increase through 2050. The report also found that 14.7% of Pennsylvanians age 60 and older faced the threat of hunger in the preceding twelve months. 

Older adults may miss meals due to several factors, including limitations affecting their ability to prepare them, lack of social support and transportation, and having to choose between purchasing food or other necessities because they cannot afford both. Food assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) through the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, can help qualified low-income seniors. However, our Department is also looking for opportunities to creatively offer nutrition services that can allow us to better reach and serve people at greater risk for food insecurity. These at-risk seniors include seniors who are minorities, senior living with a disability, seniors living in poverty, or seniors living in a food desert. 

The Department of Aging understands the challenges health disparities, hunger and food insecurity impose on Black older adults and all other seniors. We will continue to work with our partners and stakeholders to establish practical solutions that benefit all older adults, while paying particular attention to diverse communities. I thank the Department staff and the aging network for its commitment, ongoing work and dedication to engage in continued learning and innovation for the betterment of all older adults in the commonwealth. 



Robert Torres
Secretary of Aging

Department of Health - Resources on COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Plan 

Masked PennsylvaniansThe Department of Health (DOH) continues to provide resources on its COVID-19 vaccination rollout plan. You can visit the DOH website to learn more about the four phrases of distribution for the vaccine, find a location in your area that is offering the vaccines, find out if you are eligible and more.

Everyone can stand 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

State LTC Ombudsman Shares Vaccination Inspiration

Margaret Barajas, the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, recently received her COVID-19 vaccine. She said she got the shot for her 90-year-old father, Norberto. 

Margaret shared: “Latinos have a profound respect for our elders and family units. When a loved one passes, we memorialize them in “interesting” ways, such as R.I.P. t-shirts, sticker lettering on the back window of cars as a memorial (Gone too soon, (enter name, d.o.b., date of passing, etc.) Why not do a living memorial? So that our elders can live!”

PA Changes Approach in Supporting LTC Facilities Battling COVID-19

The Departments of Health and Human Services, along with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and Governor Wolf, announced the commonwealth is transitioning from the Regional Response Health Collaboration (RRHC) Program to the 
Long-Term Care Task Force (LTCTF) that includes Regional Congregate Care Assistance Teams (RCATs) to continue supporting long-term care facilities that are battling COVID-19. 
The move comes after federal CARES Act funding for the program that was authorized by the General Assembly ended on December 30. The RRHC program provided clinical, operational and administrative support to protect residents in long-term care facilities from COVID-19. 

The administration has urged Congress and the Biden Administration to resume greater support to state and local governments to assist LTCTFs throughout the public health crisis.
Read More
Slippery Rock University Students Share Experiences in PDA Pilot

January’s Inside Aging highlighted a pilot program between the Department of Aging and Slippery Rock University (SRU) in which students in recreational therapy and behavioral sciences programs received real world experience by completing service-learning projects that included interactions with older adults. 

Students engaged with seniors typically twice a week either over the phone or virtually if the senior had access to videoconferencing technology. The students earned service-learning hours, gained skills in virtual assessment and implementing interventions while participating in a variety of activities with their older adult, including recipe swapping, brain fitness, relaxation, games, and sharing personal life stories. Participating students looking to reduce social isolation and loneliness in older adults also found they gained personal fulfillment.


Bailie Fleming, an SRU junior health care administration and management major, participated in the program. She shared: “My older adult gave me advice that I will use for the rest of my life. Sometimes I really feel like I am just going throughout my day and not really living. My older adult gave me my ‘why’ for years to come. This was such a great experience. I hope other students can continue this program.”

Megan Hutchman, an SRU senior recreational therapy major, also participated in the program and shared: “I believe this service-learning project was very beneficial for both the participant and me. I am very fortunate to have been a part of such a great opportunity that my professor, Slippery Rock University, and the state provided to further develop the skills I need to be a recreational therapist.” 

Maria Josselyn, an SRU senior public health major and program participant, shared: “I am very grateful I was given this opportunity. It was one of my favorite projects throughout my entire college career. This year has been hard on everyone and it was great to be able to be there for someone and for them to be there in return. I will cherish how we were able to share life experiences and overall create an inter-generational relationship.” 
SRU will continue the program in the spring. PDA has confirmed West Chester University will begin a similar program during the upcoming fall semester. PDA continues connecting with other universities across the commonwealth to explore inclusion of the program in their curriculums. 
PDA to Participate in National Leadership Academy for Public Health

The Department of Aging is joining the Department of Health and Harrisburg University in representing the commonwealth in the National Leadership Academy for the Public’s Health (NLAPH) Cohort later this year.  

NLAPH is a national program focused on improving community health by working with collaborative, multi-sector leadership teams and training them through an applied, team-based, collaborative leadership development model. 

The Pennsylvania cohort team is one of 14 teams that will be working to improve specific, measurable and place-based public health problems, while developing their leadership skills throughout 2021. 

Read More
PDA Awards $2 Million in Grants to Help Senior Community Centers 

PDA has awarded $2 million in grants equally among 405 Area Agency on Aging-affiliated Senior Community Centers (SCCs) for the fiscal year 2020-2021. 

Due to the adverse impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on SCCs across the commonwealth and the resulting needs, PDA deviated from a traditional competitive grant process and disbursed the funding to the 52 Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) to allocate among all of its eligible centers. Each AAA will receive nearly $5,000 for each eligible SCC. The funding was appropriated by the General Assembly from the Pennsylvania Lottery.

Each SCC will have the flexibility to spend the funding through June 30, 2022 on a variety of projects to best meet the needs of the center and their participants during the pandemic. Project types include COVID-19 mitigation, capital improvements and renovations, programs and services, technology, nutrition services, marketing and outreach, and rent and utilities.

PA Provides $4.8 Million in Grants to Train Direct Care Workers 

Governor Wolf announced more than $4.8 million has been awarded in Direct Care Worker Training Grants (DCWTG) to improve the quality of care provided by direct care workers while creating opportunities for them to build new careers and earn family-sustaining wages.

The Long-Term Care Council, which advises the Department of Aging and other agencies on long-term care issues, developed the Blueprint for Strengthening Pennsylvania’s Direct Care Workforce. This report recommended the establishment of standardized core training for direct care workers to provide career pathways throughout the continuum of long-term services and supports.

Read More

Seniors Can Now Apply Online for 2020 Property Tax/Rent Rebates 

Property Tax Rent Rebate - Apply online at application process is now open for older adults to apply for rebates on property taxes or rent that they paid in 2020. 

The Department of Revenue has unveiled as a free online option for seniors to file for their rebate. Previously, applicants were required to submit a paper application.

Starting February 12, older adults also can use to file their state personal income taxes. 

For more information, visit the Department of Revenue’s website.  

LTC Residents Have Rights Regarding Federal Stimulus Checks

PDA wants to remind consumers in long-term care facilities that the federal stimulus payments being issued belong to them, not the facilities where they live. 

During the first round of checks that went out in the spring, the Office of LTC Ombudsman received complaints that residents were being told they must surrender either a portion or all of their check to pay for services, which is not true. Long-term care residents have their choice – like all citizens receiving checks – to spend their money however they like. 

Consumers with concerns should call the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office at 800-441-2555. But if they need some extra help preparing to make their complaint, the Department of Aging’s LTC State Ombudsman can offer support. That number to call is 717-783-8975. 
Webinars Available on Black Mental Health Issues

The Pennsylvania Care Partnership will host a two-part webinar series to commemorate National Black History Month. The series – facilitated by Dr. Eunice Peterson, a board-certified adult and child & adolescent psychiatrist – will discuss how racism impacts mental health.  
Event & Registration Details

“SOLO” Sessions Continue in February

The Pennsylvania Council on Aging’s (PCoA) Social Isolation Task Force is helping older adults focus on their best self in the new year. The task force is holding free, virtual, small-group, interactive sessions with seniors’ mental, spiritual, and physical health in mind. 

These sessions will also give older adults the chance to maximize the positive impact of the council’s interactive guide, known as SOLOStrengthening Older Lives Online. 

Space is limited for these hour-long sessions, so older adults should RSVP as soon as possible here:

Groups of older adults that may be interested in having their own session can email Faith Haeussler, PCoA Executive Director, at

View the SOLO Guide - English
View the SOLO Guide - Spanish

Virtual Family Council Announces February Meeting Dates

Volunteers that support the Office of Long-Term Care Ombudsman have announced the February meeting dates and topics for the Virtual Family Council. The meetings will run from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Tuesday, February 9, the Center for Loss and Bereavement will be presenting. The center provides professional counseling, support services and education for families, individuals, and organizations dealing with loss and bereavement.
  • Tuesday, February 23, the topic involves the Pen Pal Project and Pennsylvania Empowered Expert Residents (PEERs) Perspective. The discussion will begin with an upcoming new project designed to connect long-term care residents with school-aged children to become pen pals. Then, a panel of six PEERs will share their experience from inside LTC facilities. 
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.

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.
  • Lancaster Neighborhood Senior Center (Lancaster County) on Friday, February 12 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. For more information contact: Vasthi Dominguez, Senior Center Manager, at: 717-299-3943
  • Berwick Senior Center (Columbia County) on Wednesday, February 17 from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. For more information contact: Jan Banko, Berwick Senior Center Site Manager, at: 570-759-8529
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.
  • Phoenixville Area Senior Center (Chester County) on Thursday, February 18 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. For more information contact: Christine McManus, Center Director, 610-935-1515
  • Philadelphia Senior Center (Philadelphia County) on Thursday, February 25 from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. To participate contact: Edwina Griggs, Activities Coordinator, 215-546-5879
Event & Registration Details
LGBTQ Caregiver Conference
Friday, February 12, 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (CST)

Join us for a morning of learning as we explore important information on Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, its impact on the LGBTQ community, intergenerational experiences, legal and financial resources, and a special breakout for professionals on fostering cultural competency for eldercare professionals. This program meets the requirements for 3.0 CEUs for social workers and licensed professional counselors. Register by calling 1.800.272.3900 or click the button below.

Register for the Event
An online symposium for PA Seniors and Aging professionals, designed to showcase
the unique programs available in PA to relieve social isolation and loneliness. 

MARCH 23 & 24, 2021 

Don’t miss this first-of-its-kind-in-PA event!
Registration information coming soon.
Interested in Presenting at the Symposium?
Seniors Scoop Up Wins During PA Farm Show Butter Sculpture Contest 

PDA congratulates the winners in the senior group of the first-ever Pennsylvania Farm Show butter sculpture contest! 

Gold medal went to Janet Shinn of Somerset County for her creation “Grow Success”.
Silver medal went to Margaret Brostrom of Venango County for her rendering of former Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine.

A shoutout to the more than 130 Pennsylvanians who submitted butter sculptures that they created at home for the contest. You can see all of the winners on the PA Department of Agriculture’s Facebook page

“Grow Success,” Janet Shinn, Somerset County

"Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine," Margaret Brostrom, Venango County
Older Adults Show Off Their Artsy Side in Creative Aging Residency

During a visual arts residency partially supported by PDA, a dozen older adults aged 70+, members of the Senior Adult Club at the Jewish Community Center (JCC) in Harrisburg, embarked on a 20-week journey of creative discovery.

The residency started at the JCC in February 2020. After the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the residency restarted in August 2020 as a hybrid with both on-site and on zoom calls simultaneously. 

Facilitated by artist and illustrator Cheryl Kugler, the program featured a variety of exercises designed to help unlock creativity that the participants didn’t realize they possessed. Budding older artists focused on using a piece of sage advice they received at some point in their lives for inspiration; changing the look of aging; even using old roadmaps as a canvas for exploration. The residency culminated in a weeklong art installation at the JCC titled the OutSAGEous Art Gallery. 
Studies show the benefits of arts engagement for seniors include:
  • Fewer doctor visits and hospital stays
  • Less use of medication 
  • Better morale and decrease in isolation
  • A trend toward increased activity
This was the fourth year that Ms. Kugler and the JCC partnered on the visual arts residency. Each year features a unique curriculum and theme. The next partnership begins March 10. 

PDA is proud to join the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and the Perry County Council of the Arts in continuing support of this residency through the Creative Aging partnership.
Looking Back
  • On Wednesday, January 27, the House Aging & Older Adult Services Committee held its reorganization meeting.
Looking Ahead
  • The House and Senate will return to session on Wednesday, February 3.
  • On Wednesday, February 3, the House Health Committee will hold a public hearing on COVID-19 Vaccine Distribution: Strengths and Weaknesses in the Commonwealth.
  • On Thursday, February 4, the Senate Aging & Youth and Health & Human Services Committees will hold a joint public hearing on implementation of the State Vaccination Plan.
  • The Department of Aging’s House Appropriations Committee hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, February 16.
Thank You for Your Support

Thank you Representative Labs for introducing House Bill 291, which would renew the PACE/PACENET COLA moratorium that is set to expire on December 31, 2021. Approximately 12,700 PACE/PACENET cardholders are able to maintain enrollment despite disqualifying increases in their overall income due to a Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). House Bill 291 would allow PACE/PACENET enrollees to remain eligible for the program if the maximum income limit is exceeded due solely to a Social Security COLA. This bill is also one of the department’s legislative priorities.
What’s happening in your local aging network? 

Is there a great initiative or virtual event happening in your local aging network? How about a good news event? Tell PDA about it! Email the details and any photos to, and it may be featured in an upcoming edition of Inside Aging. 
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