Top administrator for county's senior programs stepping down

Mildred Morrison took charge of Allegheny County’s aging programs at the turn of the century with a background in banking and in running a comprehensive senior center in East Liberty.

She departs as administrator of the Area Agency on Aging 17 years later after three different county executives utilized her management skills to oversee wide-ranging services for the graying population of one of America’s oldest large counties.

Ms. Morrison, 64, said in an interview Tuesday that she will step down May 2 to take an administrative position with the YWCA Retirement Fund in New York City. She had planned to resign when turning 65 later this year but altered the timetable after receiving the new job offer.

Through the tenures of Jim Roddey, Dan Onorato and the current county executive, Rich Fitzgerald, Ms. Morrison headed an agency that now oversees some $47 million in state and federal allocations for senior services. Of the county’s 278,000 residents age 60 and older, about 43,000 are consumers in some way of the home services, senior centers, Meals on Wheels, caregiver assistance, ombudsman program or other facets of the Area Agency on Aging.

An affable, easy-to-laugh administrator who joked about her unusual status as an African-American who has long been registered independent politically, Ms. Morrison said the scope and duration of her work “has been far more than I anticipated when I came into the job. ... We’ve been able to work through issues and find opportunities for creativity, and I would hope it’s been productive and hope it’s been a good service for older adults in the county.”

The aging agency, which has some 200 employees, does its work primarily through contracts with more than 80 service providers in the community. The county has been responsible for implementing state and federal initiatives in recent years that have built up home-assisted services to postpone or avoid use of more expensive, less desired nursing home care.

About 1,700 low- to moderate-income county residents with frailties make use of what’s known as the Aging Waiver, a Medicaid-funded program of intensive home services, compared to 268 when she started, Ms. Morrison said. About 4,500 use lottery-funded Options home help, and several hundred more each year are assisted in a special transitions program to leave nursing homes.

“The aging population has been the growing population in this county and in the country, and meeting those demands has been no easy feat,” said Marc Cherna, director of the county’s Department of Human Services, which includes the aging agency. “People are older, sicker and require more services, and under Mildred’s leadership the county’s done a good job of helping keep people out of nursing homes and letting them live in their own homes longer.”

Among other achievements that gave her satisfaction, Ms. Morrison said, were putting more emphasis on healthy outcomes for people who receive services; reducing caseloads of caseworkers in order to more effectively assist individual clients; seeing information counselors take part in a national certification program; expanding ombudsman assistance services to people at home as well as those living in institutions; and overseeing a headquarters relocation to more modern offices on the South Side.

The next administrator will be challenged by the complicated task of managing local transition in January to the state’s new Community HealthChoices program, a managed care system for those receiving long-term care services.

Mr. Cherna said a broad search has begun for Ms. Morrison’s replacement, and her responsibilities would be filled in the meantime by Patricia Valentine, deputy executive director of the Department of Human Services.

Gary Rotstein: or 412-263-1255.


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