BLOG: Protecting Pennsylvania’s Seniors

By: Teresa Osborne, Secretary of Aging

January 14, 2016

Ensuring that Pennsylvania’s government is working for all citizens of the commonwealth is one cornerstone of the Wolf Administration. In my department, we are thrilled that one of Governor Wolf’s top priorities is to protect older Pennsylvanians from all types of abuse and to ensure that they can age in place, in their homes and communities, with the dignity and respect they deserve.


Given the state’s commitment to these values, the Department of Aging strives daily to serve, protect, enable, and empower the commonwealth’s 2.7 million persons age 60 and older who call Pennsylvania “home.”

By working with the Governor’s Office and other state agencies on initiatives intended to promote quality of life and provide quality care to older adults, the Department of Aging serves as the focal point of state coordination and planning for all long-term services and supports.

Our success is in our capacity to demonstrate how we work to support older Pennsylvanians by providing key assistance, such as community-based long-term services and supports, as well as pharmaceutical benefits that keep people healthy and active in their homes and communities.

Improving Medicare Assistance

During 2015, the department’s State Health Insurance Counseling Program (SHIP), commonly referred to as APPRISE, provided free, unbiased assistance to help guide Medicare beneficiaries through their many health insurance options, including Medicare and Medicaid, Medicare supplement insurance plans, Medicare Advantage Plans, Medicare prescription (Part D), long-term care insurance policies, and other health insurance and public benefit programs.

As a result of these efforts, 6,541 individuals were enrolled in “Extra Help” or the low-income subsidy, 2,787 were enrolled into a Medicare Supplement Program, and our APPRISE Program ranked 7th among all states nationwide by the federal Administration on Community Living (ACL) which evaluates the performance of all SHIP programs.

Improving Hospital Access

Additionally, on November 30, 2015, Governor Wolf announced that the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania had reached a decision in the UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) and Highmark Medicare Advantage case.

In this decision, the Supreme Court affirmed and upheld the ruling handed down earlier in the year by the Commonwealth Court preserving in-network access to UPMC hospitals and doctors for nearly 182,000 western Pennsylvania seniors with Highmark’s Medicare Advantage health insurance plans until 2019.

Our department’s APPRISE Program staff played a significant role in ensuring this successful outcome, as the final opinion of the Supreme Court pointed directly to the testimony offered by the APPRISE Program. This decision is not only a victory for the commonwealth, but also a huge victory for seniors across western Pennsylvania. Moreover, a decision like this strikes at the heart of why the leadership and presence of the APPRISE Program is so important.

Improving Senior Safety

In September 2015, the department was notified by the Federal Administration on Community Living that ‘Healthy Steps for Older Adults,’ a falls prevention program, was deemed to meet the highest-level evidence based criteria established by the ACL.

This honorable distinction was achieved following a rigorous evaluation and testing period and allows the department to continue to qualify for funding and to make the program available for other states to replicate.

Improving Prescription Access

As the administrator of the PACE (Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly) Program and PACENET Program, the department provides comprehensive prescription coverage to older Pennsylvanians while also protecting program participants from adverse drug events.

Since its inception, through the PACE Program, the department has implemented several initiatives intended to support the needs of older Pennsylvanians through the PACE Program.

One such initiative is the SUSTAIN (Supporting Seniors Receiving Treatment and Intervention) Program. In partnership with the University of Pennsylvania, support is offered to best address the behavioral health needs of low-income, elderly persons who live in the community. The program’s goal is to identify community-dwelling elders at risk of poor health outcomes, including nursing home admission, and to support those elders and their primary care physician to manage their mental health care, consistent with evidence-based guidelines

During the past five years, over 4500 seniors have been engaged through this program. In October 2015, the work of the SUSTAIN program received the American Psychiatric Association’s Psychiatric Services Achievement Bronze Award, a distinction that recognizes another facet of the proactive, positive steps taken every day to ensure that older Pennsylvanians are served and protected.

Improving Direct Care Worker Education

In addition, in partnership with the Pennsylvania Homecare Association’s online ‘My Learning Center’ tool, we saw a 28% increase in new site users. As a result, there are over 14,150 more direct care workers who accessed free training on topic areas such as Elder Abuse and Neglect, Understanding Dementia and Pain Management for older adults thus providing better care and protection to those who need it most.

On Track for Another Great Year

I am delighted to continue the great work of my department in 2016. I know that with the successes of 2015 as our foundation, Pennsylvania will continue to see tangible results of the Wolf Administration’s commitment to seniors.

For more information on the Department of Aging’s programs and services, please visit or call 717-783-1500.


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