Commentary

Pa. has a State Plan on Aging? Here’s what you need to know about this important document | Ray E. Landis

November 25, 2020 6:30 am

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In the midst of the many dramatic things occurring in Pennsylvania over the past two months, a quiet development impacting millions of Commonwealth residents took place on October 1. The Pennsylvania Department of Aging submitted its 2020-24 State Plan on Aging to the federal government.

Most Pennsylvanians (and probably quite a few elected officials) may not even know the Commonwealth has a State Plan on Aging. Every state is required to produce such a blueprint in order to receive millions of dollars of funding from the federal Older Americans Act.

The Department of Aging puts a great deal of effort into producing this document, holding stakeholder meetings across Pennsylvania, coordinating with county Areas on Aging, working with the Governor’s office, and establishing goals and directions.

Although the plan serves to establish the principles for the work of the Department of Aging and is designed to give continuity to how we address the needs and interests of older Pennsylvanians, its contents are not well known by the general public.

It is time for more Pennsylvanians to take this document seriously – particularly those responsible for funding its recommendations.

The State Plan on Aging begins by reviewing the various programs and issues that impact the older population of Pennsylvania. But its centerpiece is five overarching goals which give perspective on how the Commonwealth intends to cope with the needs of the fastest growing segment of its population.

Each goal is broken down into objectives and strategies, with actions, measures, and target dates for each strategy. It is here the State Plan on Aging begins to sound like bureaucracy run amok, with lofty intentions and tons of acronyms.

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So, let’s step back and look at the broad themes of these goals. We’ll focus on the first goal in this column, then explore others in upcoming columns.

Goal One: Strengthen aging network’s capacity, promote innovation and best practices, and build efficiencies to respond to the growing and diversifying aging population

The first three words of the first goal raise a question. What, exactly, is the “aging network?” If you type “aging network” into an internet search engine, you get numerous links to different definitions of the term.

The different definitions have a common origin, however. The 1965 law establishing the federal Older Americans Act refers to organizations at the federal, state, and local levels providing services to older Americans as the aging network.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Aging and the 52 local Area Agencies on Aging are at the core of the aging network, but it is not an exclusive club – community organizations, non-profit and for-profit service providers are a part of it too.

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Different entities within this aging network have different ideas, and different motivations, about how to provide services for older Pennsylvanians. Overcoming these differences is a key to achieving the goals and objectives of the State Plan on Aging.

This first goal has five objectives involving technology, collaboration, diversity, publicity, and caregiving. The strategies and actions under these objectives contain references to specific programs and initiatives which are at the core of the work of the Department of Aging and local organizations.

In examining these objectives and strategies, it turns out trying to expand the knowledge of already existing programs is at the root of almost all the actions. The biggest current obstacle to getting services to older Pennsylvanians appears to be figuring out how to inform more Pennsylvanians about the services currently available.

Whether it’s the Family Caregiver Support program, the Senior Community Services Employment program, or even the availability of the publication “Benefits and Rights for Older Pennsylvanians,” too many older Pennsylvanians and their families simply don’t know about the assistance this aging network can provide.

Widening the knowledge of available programs presents a dilemma, however. Members of the aging network complain that funding is already strained for these programs. The goal of increasing knowledge and participation is worthy – but Pennsylvanians simply can’t buy enough lottery tickets to pay for it.

In the end, will Pennsylvania achieve Goal One of its 2020-24 State Plan on Aging? We should – strengthening capacity, innovating, and building efficiencies are broad, achievable tasks.

But meeting the individual objectives, ensuring the growing number of older Pennsylvanians know about and take advantage of the programs, and accommodating them in a challenging fiscal environment is another matter, requiring resources which seem elusive right now.

Ray E. Landis writes about the issues important to older Pennsylvanians. His work appears biweekly on the Capital-Star’s Commentary Page. Follow him on Twitter @RELandis.

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