In-home aid for elderly pinched

Advocates criticize funding changes

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HARRISBURG -- State changes to a program designed to keep seniors in their homes are making the program more difficult to administer, a coalition of aging and social service groups says.

Lower reimbursement rates to county Area Agencies on Aging from the state Department of Public Welfare have caused agencies in 10 counties to drop the Aging Waiver program. Advocates fear that will lead to fewer seniors remaining in their homes and more elderly Pennsylvanians needing costlier nursing home care.

"For this population, it is critically important that there's a high-quality service," said Leslie Grenfell, executive director of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging, which covers Fayette, Greene and Washington counties.

"This is penny-wise and pound-foolish," said Bob Nelkin, president of United Way of Allegheny County.

Under the Aging Waiver program, county Area Agencies on Aging aid seniors and their family members in obtaining and managing services for them to remain in their homes. Services can include helping them find an aide to provide assistance with bathing, dressing and housework, arranging for meals to be delivered or arranging minor home modifications, said Mildred Morrison, administrator for the Area Agency on Aging for Allegheny County.

To participate, seniors must be medically and financially eligible for Medicaid. About 22,000 seniors statewide are enrolled in the program; about 1,800 of them are in Allegheny County.

Participants include Mildred Smith, 77, of Homewood; the program assisted her in hiring an aide who comes to her home most days to assist her with cleaning and preparing meals.

"They came out to my home, and they talked to me about it. And they set up the aide for me. They helped in every way. I don't know what I'd do without them," Ms. Smith said of the assistance the Area Agency on Aging in Allegheny County provided.

Ms. Morrison said the agency has been using reserve funds recently to continue the program and make up for the loss of reimbursement funds from the state.

"We could not morally just stop serving 1,800 people," she said.

In Beaver County, as the County Office on Aging has offered the program to fewer people, some private service coordination agencies have stepped in, administrator Beverly Sullivan said.

Ms. Grenfell said for the approximately 1,000 seniors in the Aging Waiver program in Washington, Greene and Fayette counties, the reimbursement the state is currently offering does not cover the cost of the services.

Mr. Nelkin said he is particularly concerned about the number of counties that have left the program.

"Once that system is dismantled, it can't be re-created."

Kate Giammarise: 717-787-4254 or or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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