Pennsylvania Department of Aging secretary Brian Duke on Wednesday told senior citizens in Mechanicsburg that his agency’s key goals in working with 52 area agencies include "empowering community, the family and the individual."
Duke said his presentation at Mechanicsburg Place: A Senior Center and More, 97 W. Portland St., was intended to be informative and educational. State Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-88, and Terry Barley, director of Cumberland County Aging and Community Services, attended.
Duke said his department’s goal "was to share Gov. Tom Corbett's commitment to older Pennsylvanians as evident by the Department of Aging, its mission, its four-year state plan and the main priorities mentioned here today," Duke said.
Duke said the number of aging citizens is growing, and as of the end of January, 6,300 citizens still await services. He said along with the goal of empowering the senior community, comes prevention practices, or services aimed at keeping senior citizens in their homes or communities.
“As we do that, we are actually helping people by preventing, perhaps, their access at a later time to more expensive, both personally and financially, levels of care later on,” Duke said.
Rewriting and representing the Adults Protective Services Act to state legislators is a top priority, Duke said. Meanwhile, he said the department is formulating a plan to provide a sense of direction as to where the state needs to be while encompassing accessibility to proper care, services to ensure individuals live and age well, and ensuring older citizens are healthy and well and a “mirror goal” to revitalize the Department of Aging.
“The last one is to say, ‘is the Department of Aging doing the best it can?’” Duke said. “‘Are we using our resources in the most effective way?’”
Duke estimated that more than $498 million was provided to the Dept. of Aging from the Pennsylvania Lottery. In Cumberland County, he said little more than $2.5 million of lottery funds benefited senior services. After two years of spending restrictions, Duke said the Corbett administration has created a budget that allowed for some additional spending.
“The total budget is $28.4 billion,” Duke said — that includes an additional $50 million devoted to care for senior citizens.
That funding includes $21 million for the Aging Waiver Program, $20 million to the Options Program, $5 million to the area agencies on aging across the state, $2 million in a competitive grant for the 600 senior centers in the state and $2 million to assist citizens living with disabilities and age into the intensive care program.
That $50 million “is also the same dollar amount that is the base amount that was promised by the vendor, Camelot, who was selected for the private management agreement for the Pennsylvania Lottery,” Duke said. “As we look at that commitment, the first thing to realize is that it’s a floor, it’s not a ceiling ... it’s not just one year, it’s ongoing and it can continue to grow.”
After the secretary’s presentation, those in attendance quickly prepared for a lunch of spaghetti and meatballs. As she was finding her way to her seat, Connie Kuntz of Mechanicsburg took a moment to reflect on Duke’s speech.
“It was good information, but I’m not one to remember numbers,” Kuntz said. With the various numbers presented in Duke’s speech. Kuntz said she would have a hard time remembering them. “I’d rather have a little less numbers and figures and a little more information. Maybe even some examples of how some of these programs affect senior citizens.”
Despite the numbers, Kuntz liked the fact that a good portion of money was being used to benefit seniors. Ujagar Singh of Mechanicsburg said he was still learning about the state’s support for senior citizens. Regardless, he said it was a good speech, and liked the fact that the profits from the lottery are benefiting senior centers similar to the one like Mechanicsburg Place.
“It’s a very good center because of a very good relationship between the staff and the residents,” Singh said.
Gary Johnson, vice president of community support services for Messiah Lifeways, said there are around 360 members that visit the Mechanicsburg Place. Open from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, lunch is provided daily and a variety of activities such as tai chi, chorus and billiards are available for seniors to enjoy.
“In Mechanicsburg Place, they (seniors) are very involved in the senior center here,” Johnson said. “So to the extent that they would withdraw money so it would help centers like this close, for a lot of folks, that would be a hardship.”