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Pennsylvania focuses on delay issues in Aging Waiver Program

| Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, 10:30 p.m.
Emily Harger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Peggy Cole helps her husband Steven Cole, 66, a recipient of the Aging Waiver Program, support his legs with pillows in his home in Masontown on Friday, August 1, 2014. Because of the Aging Waiver Program, Cole is able to live at home and receive home healthcare despite being nursing home eligible due to his Parkinson's and a venous insufficiency in his left leg. However, Cole had to wait seven months from January 2014 when he applied to July 23, 2014 when he was accepted to start receiving aid from the program, which included four weeks of therapy and handicap accessibility in his home.
Emily Harger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Peggy Cole helps her husband Steven Cole, 66, a recipient of the Aging Waiver Program, get out of his chair in his home in Masontown on Friday, August 1, 2014. Because of the Aging Waiver Program, Cole is able to live at home and receive home healthcare despite being nursing home eligible due to his Parkinson's and a venous insufficiency in his left leg. However, Cole had to wait seven months from January 2014 when he applied to July 23, 2014 when he was accepted to start receiving aid from the program, which included four weeks of therapy and handicap accessibility in his home.
Emily Harger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Steven Cole, 66, a recipient of the Aging Waiver Program, lifts weights to build his upper body strength in his home in Masontown on Friday, August 1, 2014. Because of the Aging Waiver Program, Cole is able to live at home and receive home healthcare despite being nursing home eligible due to his Parkinson's and a venous insufficiency in his left leg. However, Cole had to wait seven months from January 2014 when he applied to July 23, 2014 when he was accepted to start receiving aid from the program, which included four weeks of therapy and handicap accessibility in his home.
Emily Harger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Peggy Cole walks past her husband Steven Cole's stairlift and wheelchair in their home in Masontown on Friday, August 1, 2014. Because of the Aging Waiver Program, Steven Cole is able to live at home and receive home healthcare despite being nursing home eligible due to his Parkinson's and a venous insufficiency in his left leg. However, Cole had to wait seven months from January 2014 when he applied to July 23, 2014 when he was accepted to start receiving aid from the program, which included four weeks of therapy and handicap accessibility in his home.
Emily Harger | TRIB TOTAL MEDIA
Steven Cole, 66, a recipient of the Aging Waiver Program, makes a phonecall after his physical therapy in his home in Masontown on Friday, August 1, 2014. Because of the Aging Waiver Program, Cole is able to live at home and receive home healthcare despite being nursing home eligible due to his Parkinson's and a venous insufficiency in his left leg. However, Cole had to wait seven months from January 2014 when he applied to July 23, 2014 when he was accepted to start receiving aid from the program, which included four weeks of therapy and handicap accessibility in his home.

At 66, Steven Cole knew he needed help.

Diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and a vein problem in his left leg, he had no option but to turn to the state's Aging Waiver Program — a Medicaid-funded program for those older than 60 who are eligible to live in a nursing home but would rather remain at home.

“I was getting to the point where I could not take care of my own body,” said Cole of Masontown in Fayette County.

He applied for the program in December but received no help until March. Most people wait longer than 50 business days, said Judy Beck, supervisor of the Aging Waiver Program in Allegheny County, the local administrator.

“It was a long period of time to wait it out,” said Cole, who was a pastor for 40 years before retiring in 2010.

In the 2013-14 fiscal year, 32,474 people received help through the program, said Kait Gillis, state Public Welfare Department spokeswoman, almost double the number from 2007-08. In Allegheny County, 25 applications dating to mid-June are pending with the state Welfare Department's Office of Long-Term Living, Beck said.

Reducing the wait is a key goal, Gillis said.

“In recent months, (the office) has deployed additional resources to address any concerns,” she said, including realigning staff and making changes designed to make the system more efficient.

Verifying income eligibility — the program is open to patients with an income of no more than $2,163 a month and assets of less than $8,000 — is a major reason for the lag, Beck said.

“The financial piece does, unfortunately, take a long time,” she said. “It could be a long haul for somebody who really needs the service.”

Now that he has help, Cole has few complaints.

He said home health aides visit his home for 21 hours every week, and a nurse visits twice a week. He works with a physical therapist. The program provided him with a bed, a shower chair, grip bars and a stair chair.

His wife of 41 years, Peggy, 60, cares for him, too.

“The aging program, it's a very good program,” he said. “But in my opinion, their difficulty is dealing with getting things approved.”

In January, Gov. Tom Corbett established the 25-member Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Commission to review the system and seek ways to make it more efficient, effective and cost-conscious.

Commission members have until Dec. 31 to submit recommendations to the governor.

“I think that their ears might be open,” Beck said.

Megan Henney is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7987 or mhenney@tribweb.com.

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