A brief news item entitled “Bill would expand Aging department’s oversight” by Scott Gilbert, posted on July 16, 2009, by WITF (Harrisburg, PA), noted the proposed restructuring of the Pennsylvania Office of Long Term Living (OLTL) into the Pennsylvania Department of Aging (DoA)
All long-term living facilities, for seniors and younger people alike, may soon fall under one state agency.
The departments of Aging and Public Welfare currently share oversight of the Office of Long-Term Living. But the House has approved and sent on to the Senate a measure that would create the Department of Aging and Long-Term Living.
Crystal Lowe, who heads the Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging, says the move makes sense.
Among the functions that would be shifted out of DPW is the licensing and regulation of personal-care homes and assisted-living facilities. Lowe says her group supports the legislation, provided the merger would not diminish the Aging department’s ability to advocate on issues unique to seniors.
The proposal was discussed at a meeting, held May 28, 2009, of the Medical Assistance Advisory Committee (MAAC) of the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, when a resolution was adopted anticipating the organizational move of OLTL from DPW, to the DoA.
The Consumer Subcommittee made a motion that the Memorandum of Understanding formalize the role of the MAAC and the MAAC Subcommittees to continue to serve in an advisory capacity on the MA Programs that are moved to the Department of Aging and Long Term Living and that includes having someone come to the MAAC, not only to give reports, but to provide draft documents for comment and discussion for the MAAC to provide an advisory role independent of other committees.
It appears that the DoA anticipates receiving the prime role of addressing long-term care needs in Pennsylvania, as explored in its recent Summit held in State College.
A Press Release, entitled “PA Department of Aging Explores Needs of Older Adults at Senior Center Summit” (06/30/09), noted an information-gathering process that focused on the role of the existing senior centers statewide.
The Pennsylvania Department of Aging and the Long-Term Living Training Institute have heard valuable insight from experts in the aging field and older adults during a two-day conference attended by over 300 professionals and consumers.
Pennsylvania has over 600 senior centers where older citizens go for support, camaraderie, meals and access to important information about programs that can help them.
“Senior centers offer a lifeline for many older residents who otherwise would be isolated,” said Department of Aging Secretary John Michael Hall. “Pennsylvania seeks to improve programs and access to centers across the state and to find innovative ways to make them more appealing, efficient and worthwhile for members.”
Discussion groups focused on the changing role of senior centers, fundraising techniques, creating a business plan and making the centers better places for older residents to go. Objectives of the meeting include improving ways to transport seniors to centers in rural and suburban areas and finding more and better ways to sustain operations in a cost-effective way.
The legislation that would accomplish the restructuring is PA House Bill 1152, presently in Printers No. 2212 (28 pages in PDF format), which is summarized simply as “An Act establishing the Department of Aging and Long-Term Living and providing for its powers and duties; and making related repeals.”
According to its Legislative History, HB 1152 was introduced on March 31, 2009, approved by the House on June 30th, and then was referred immediately, in the Senate, to its Aging & Youth Committee.
Very relevant to the discussion about regulation of personal care homes in Pennsylvania is Section 4′s empowerment that, among other missions, the proposed, newly-named “Department of Aging and Long-Term Living” shall administer and supervise a domiciliary care program for adults.
More specifically, under Subsection 9.1, the new DA/LTL shall: “License and regulate personal care homes and assisted living residences under all powers previously granted to the Department of Public Welfare as provided in Articles II and X of the act of June 13, 1967 (P.L.31, No.21), known as the Public Welfare Code.”
The new DA/LTL would also handle programs for Pennsylvanians who are older or who have disabilities. Section 4, in Subsection 10, provides that it shall “[a]dminister and supervise an attendant care program for people with disabilities under the act of December 10, 1986 (P.L.1477, No.150), known as the Attendant Care Services Act, and any related home and community-based services waiver for older adults and people with disabilities.”
The legislation also projects a sweeping vision for long-term living in Pennsylvania.
Section 4, Subsection 12, provides that the new DA/LTL shall:
In cooperation with the area agencies, Federal, State and local agencies that support people with disabilities and older adults, service providers, centers for independent living and support organizations, work toward the development of a continuum of home and community-based service, transportation and housing options for older adults and for people with disabilities designed to maintain them in the community and avoid or delay institutional care when clinically appropriate.
The department shall ensure that consumers are made aware of the availability of nursing facility services or other residential settings when identified as a clinically appropriate option.
System development activities shall include coordinating the Commonwealth’s plans for the provision, expansion and effective administration of all of the following:
(i) In-home services that recognize consumer choice, including personal assistance and supportive services, which shall include consumer-directed services.
(ii) Housing options such as service-enriched housing options, personal care homes and assisted living residences and nursing facility services, when clinically appropriate.
(iii) Special services to caregivers who support people with disabilities and older adults, recognizing the important role that families play in helping older adults and people with disabilities to live independently.
(iv) Adult daily living center services, respite services and other community-based services to support caregivers.
(v) The promotion of informal community supports.
(vi) Comprehensive and ongoing assessment programs.
(vii) Counseling programs to assist individuals in determining appropriate long-term living services.
(viii) Special advocacy efforts to promote greater awareness of, and more effective response to, Alzheimer’s disease and other related dementia.
(ix) Activities and services at community senior centers.
(x) Wellness and preventive health programs.
Although this may appear initially as an organizational shuffle, I think that it represents more.
This is a potential restatement by the legislative and executive branches as to who, in state government, will work in a coordinated effort on issues of older and disabled Pennsylvania citizens far into the future.
Neil E. Hendershot is a practicing & teaching lawyer in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania who works daily in the legal areas covered by the PA EE&F Law Blog