Monday, March 24, 2008

Colliton Reflects on PA Aging "Town Meeting"

On March 14, 2008, a "Town Meeting" about the forthcoming State Plan on Aging, as sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging, occurred in West Chester, PA; and Janet M. Colliton, Esq. attended.

Such scheduled public sessions were the subject of previous PA EE&F Law Blog postings:
Town Meetings for PA's "Plan on Aging" (12/28/07); and PA Aging Plan "Discussion Guide" Now Available (01/25/08).

Originally, seven sessions were scheduled, which would have concluded by now. But I note from a recent DoA announcement that the schedule was revised.

Two meetings remain to be held at locations: morning & afternoon sessions scheduled for Tuesday, March 25th, in Philadelphia; and a morning session on Friday, March 28th, in Huntington County.

A recent Philadelphia Town Meeting Announcement posted on the Department's website, repeated the purpose of such sessions:

The purpose of the State Plan on Aging is to help structure the Department’s priorities and to set an aging agenda for the Commonwealth.

The State Plan is submitted to the federal Administration on Aging in order for the Commonwealth to receive federal funds under the Older Americans Act. The Plan will cover the four-year period — October 1, 2008 through September 30, 2012.
On Saturday, March 22nd, Attorney Janet Colliton, of West Chester, PA, sent me an email message attaching a copy of her reflections, in an article, drawn from the recent "Town Meeting" held in her hometown, West Chester.

She noted that her article would be published on Monday, March 24, 2008, in the West Chester Daily Local News. I asked if I could post it, too; and she consented.
I thank her for allowing me to post her article, slightly edited. [Links edited.]

Ideas Expressed at a Pennsylvania Aging "Town Meeting”
by Janet M. Colliton, Esq.

A few weeks ago I related that Pennsylvania’s Department of Aging was coming to West Chester for one of its seven 2008 Town Meetings being held throughout the State. That meeting has concluded, the observations have been duly noted, and the State has moved on to its next and final locations.

Here is a report from West Chester.

On March 14, I watched fascinated as crowds of interested persons streamed into the lower level of Sykes Student Union Building at West Chester University for opening presentations. The event pulled together a dissimilar mix of government administrators and staff, providers, those who actually provide services to seniors, elected officials, and consumers including concerned seniors and their families.

After introductions, Nora Dowd Eisenhower, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Aging, addressed challenges facing Pennsylvania’s services for seniors over the next four years.

If you have been living in a foreign country or have not read a newspaper or followed CNN, Fox, or network news, you might not have heard the Pennsylvania drum roll but here it is.

Pennsylvania has one of the highest percentages of elder citizens in America. This is expected to continue. Pennsylvania has historically had one of the poorest records of providing at-home services for the disabled and frail elderly funded wholly or partially by the government. The much discussed “Baby Boomers” are aging. The Commonwealth wants Pennsylvanians to receive care in a setting of their choice. Resources are limited and priorities must be established.

As someone who works in the field, I recognize these statements may not be interpreted by the average Pennsylvanian in the same manner as they are by persons accustomed to dealing with government. Therefore, translation, with some interpretation of my own, may be in order.

The statement that Pennsylvania has one of the highest percentages of elderly citizens in America means that it costs or could cost the government a great deal of money to fund services at or near current levels.

Since Pennsylvania has historically had one of the poorest records of providing at-home services for the disabled and frail elderly funded by the government, the government wishes to change this statistic and provide more funding for at-home care. Considering that no increases in taxes are expected, the only way that this can be accomplished is to take funds away from nursing homes.

With “Baby Boomers” aging, there will be further stress on the system.

When Pennsylvania states it wants seniors to receive care in a setting of their choice, it means care at home. Reference is frequently made to a Pennsylvania survey that asked seniors whether they would prefer to receive care at home or in a nursing home. Not unexpectedly, most persons state they would rather be at home than in a nursing home.

Recognizing the budget slashing realities that arise from years of “hold the line on taxes” policies, Secretary Eisenhower has her hands full. Federal funding has been on a long downward swing. Pennsylvania also calls for cuts and is required to have a balanced budget.

Following the opening presentation, Town Meeting participants broke into groups depending on interests and on whether they categorized themselves as consumers of services (seniors and their families) or providers (service providers and government).

Sparks flew and some valuable observations and ideas resulted at the provider meetings I attended. Here is a small sampling. Our area included Chester and Delaware Counties and Philadelphia.
  • Transportation. Experiences of seniors stranded when they called for pick-up and of workers who needed reliable transportation were described. Transportation is an issue.
  • Reimbursement rates. Providers noted, with frustration, that reimbursement rates were too low to attract many quality home care workers. To pay for one or two hours’ care when several hours of transportation time go uncompensated affects delivery of services.
  • Recognition of creative family agreements. If the government wants families to assist, I suggested it should support shared living and shared expense arrangements where children receive compensation from parents without penalty.
You can still provide your own written testimony or comments on senior services either by mail to Pennsylvania Department of Aging at the address given in Harrisburg or by e-mail or complete the survey on-line.
Janet Colliton writes a weekly column for the West Chester Daily Local News regarding her practice areas of elder law, retirement, Medicaid, Medicare, life care planning, and estate administration. She may be contacted at: Colliton Law Associates, PC, 790 East Market St., Ste. 250, West Chester 19382 (Ofc: 610-436-6674; Email: