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Developing a Plan for the Ages

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Sky-high rents, transportation troubles, a shortage of home care workers. Those are just a few of the problems older adults across Pennsylvania have aired at public meetings focused on how hard it is to stay in their homes and communities.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Jason Kavulich wants to hear it all — and in fact, he and his staff are traveling to every corner of the state to seek out such concerns. “We’re talking to everybody who wants to talk, which is really the whole point of the exercise,” he says.

The state Department of Aging and Area Agencies on Aging are running the listening sessions, which will eventually be held in all 67 counties. The department will then develop a 10-year Master Plan for Older Adults, hoping to guide policymakers on ways to ensure older Pennsylvanians and those with disabilities get the support they need.

The department is also gathering information from a questionnaire developed by the University of Pittsburgh. AARP Pennsylvania will send it to members; it’s also available on the Department of Aging website (go to and find Master Plan for Older Adults at the top).

The plan is expected to be published in February.

“It has to be built by Pennsylvanians for Pennsylvanians,” Kavulich says of the new plan.

Demographics illustrate the need for such a plan: Pennsylvania ranks 10th nationally in the percentage of its population 65 and older, according to U.S. Census Bureau 2020 numbers.

Plan a legislative road map

While more than half the nation’s states have started or planned to start such a master plan, only a handful have implemented one, according to the nonprofit Center for Health Care Strategies, which tracks the issue. Bill Johnston-Walsh, state director for AARP Pennsylvania, and his team suggested Pennsylvania create one when they met last year with Josh Shapiro, then a candidate for governor. Shapiro (D) was receptive to the idea, and after being elected governor, signed an executive order for the master plan.

Unlike plans tucked away in government drawers, Kavulich says this one will be a road map for legislative priorities in 2024–25 and later budget years.

The listening sessions began in July and will continue through the fall. So far, older residents, their caregivers and others have expressed concerns about a range of issues, with affordable housing high on the list.

“Rents are outrageous,” Kavulich says, particularly as people get pushed out of their neighborhoods by gentrification. Johnston-Walsh has also heard plenty about affordable housing, including the sticker shock when faced with high property taxes.

“Taxes are part of it, but it’s also the upkeep of your home,” Johnston-Walsh says. “How do you stay in your home and make it age-friendly if you have a bedroom on the second floor?”

Another pressing issue, particularly for those without relatives nearby: transportation to senior centers and doctor appointments.

To create the plan, the Department of Aging will collaborate with other state agencies, including the departments of Corrections, Human Services, Transportation, and Labor and Industry. And Kavulich says it’s vital to start planning now for the big surge in the older population.

“Our ability to serve older Pennsylvanians will be severely compromised if we don’t have a vision and a plan to do this strategically,” he says. “We want people independent—living with dignity in their communities.”

Cristina Rouvalis is a writer based in Pittsburgh.

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