Gov. Ed Rendell is proposing a change in state government that will give a stronger, more unified voice to Pennsylvanians older than 60 and adults with physical disabilities.
That change is the combining of the Department of Aging and the Office of Long-Term Living into one efficient and responsive entity: the Department of Aging and Long-Term Living. Its focus will be on providing as much choice as possible for people to stay in their own homes and communities for as long as possible.
In 2007, the governor established the Office of Long-Term Living to reverse an alarming trend: Pennsylvania ranked near the bottom in funding for home and community-based services.
Too many seniors and adults with disabilities were left with little choice but to enter expensive nursing homes because of a dearth of less costly, community-based alternatives.
The long-term care system is undergoing significant change, driven by rapid growth of Pennsylvania's population age 85 and higher and the desire of most seniors to age in place.
Over the next 20 years, our older adult population will grow by more than one million people, from 15 percent today to more than 22 percent of the state's total population. Additionally, today there are more than 160,000 people with physical disabilities in Pennsylvania, many of whom need similar services and supports.
The Office of Long-Term Living was established in 2007 as a bridge between the Pennsylvania Department of Aging and the Department of Public Welfare. It works to rebalance our long-term living system by developing more options for people to stay in their communities instead of institutions. The office also helps nursing facilities retool to meet sweeping changes in the marketplace and consumer preferences for a more home-like environment.
In the two short years since this office has been in existence, home and community-based services have grown by 10 percent and 5,000 people have left nursing facilities under the governor's nursing home transition program.
For the first time, all state-funded community programs for those older than 60 and adults with physical disabilities are housed under one umbrella; and for the first time, management of our Medical Assistance nursing facility payment program is under that same umbrella.
While we have made great strides in building for tomorrow's needs through the Office of Long-Term Living, it's now time to take the next step by formally combining that office with the state's Department of Aging.
More than a dozen states already have consolidated their long-term living programs into a single state agency; doing so has put them in the forefront in creating strong home and community-based systems that offer their citizens real, meaningful choices in where they receive services and where they age.
We can no longer afford to maintain the status quo: we are paying an average of $57,000 a year for someone to live in a nursing facility as compared to $21,000 to provide them with services in the community. Four out of five Pennsylvania taxpayers' dollars for long-term care services still go to institutional care in nursing facilities. Failure to develop a more balanced, cost-effective, community-based system will lead to a financial train wreck.
Creating a unified department will bring real efficiencies and strengthen Pennsylvania's aging and disability programs. State Lottery funds will continue to be allocated to fund programs for people older than the age of 60 and the focus on consumer direction and independent living of the disability community will be enhanced.
Rendell's goal is to make Pennsylvania the best place in the nation in which to grow old or live with a disability. A unified Department of Aging and Long-Term Living will help us to reach that goal.
Hall is the state Secretary of Aging.