For the past four years, the delivery of aging services in Pennsylvania has been guided by a strategic-planning document published by the Pennsylvania Department of Aging in 2012. The 2012-16 State Plan on Aging, completed under the Corbett administration, laid out the goals, objectives and strategies for helping older Pennsylvanians access care, navigate services and age healthfully.
As a requirement of the federal Older Americans Act, all states must complete a new State Plan every four years, laying out strategic approaches for improving the delivery of services to older adults in the state. With the impending expiration of the 2012-16 State Plan, the Department of Aging is currently developing its service priorities, outreach strategies and policy goals for the next four years. This plan will be used to guide Area Agencies on Aging across the state, tasked with delivering aging services at the county level. The implementation of the upcoming State Plan will begin Oct. 1 and will be carried out through Sept. 30, 2020.
A draft of the 2016-20 State Plan on Aging was released in mid-May, allowing time for public comment before the plan is finalized (a copy of this draft is available on the Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s website, www.aging.pa.gov).
The good news is that this draft repeatedly emphasizes the importance of meeting the needs of a multicultural population of older adults and strongly commits to improving services for diverse communities. Demographic shifts and the aging of the Baby Boomer generation have made Pennsylvania’s older-adult population more diverse than ever before. This State Plan recognizes that effectively delivering services in 2016 means reaching older adults of many different races, ethnicities, religions, immigration statuses and languages of origin.
The not-so-good news is that, despite this commitment to diversity, the State Plan stops short of explicitly mentioning LGBT elders and older adults living with HIV/AIDS when talking about diversity and prioritizing services to vulnerable members of older-adult populations. Without specific inclusion in this State Plan, LGBT older Pennsylvanians are not recognized as having unique needs and requiring targeted outreach, programming, funding and support. Similarly, elders living with HIV have not been prioritized as a constituency receiving specific attention and support from the Department of Aging and the aging-services network.
We are still a long ways away from an aging-services system in Pennsylvania where LGBT people can readily access services that are inclusive, welcoming and culturally sensitive to matters of sexual orientation and gender identity. Further education within the aging-services network about the needs of LGBT older adults and best practices for working with these communities is essential. More support and guidance at the state level would greatly impact the ability of agencies to become more culturally competent.
Furthermore, a lack of data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity prevents agencies and government bodies from getting a full picture of how LGBT people are accessing services and how effectively these services are meeting the needs of this population. Planning documents such as this State Plan provide the opportunity to reevaluate how we collect data and use it to inform outreach, services and funding. Unfortunately, these opportunities have not as of yet been taken advantage of in this State Plan.
The LGBT Elder Initiative delivered testimony to the Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging at a public hearing in Philadelphia May 24, commending the Department of Aging on its commitment to diversity while also stressing the importance in going further to better meet the needs of LGBT older Pennsylvanians. We urged the Department of Aging to explicitly include LGBT older adults and older Pennsylvanians living with HIV/AIDS as populations deserving of specific outreach, support and services. We highlighted the importance of improving the LGBT cultural competency of the aging-services network and improving the ways that data is collected statewide.
We hope to see these recommendations addressed before the final draft of this State Plan is released later this summer. With more LGBT older adults and older adults living with HIV/AIDS in Pennsylvania than at any point in this state’s history, in addition to the room for improvement in our current aging-services system, it is critical that the state adopt policies and strategic goals that can specifically improve the quality of services available to older adults in our communities.