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Area seniors to rally for long-term care funding plan

| Saturday, March 17, 2001

A new plan to offer older Pennsylvanians affordable long-term care in the comfort of their own homes will be the focus of a rally in Harrisburg on Monday.

Thousands of Pennsylvania's senior citizens and their caregivers are expected to gather at the state capitol to ask elected officials for a fair share of the national Tobacco Settlement funds in order to support the reform program.

The long-term care plan calls for shifting public dollars from expensive institutional settings to the home and community.

Gov. Tom Ridge has proposed that 15 percent, or $60 million, of the state's share of the Tobacco Settlement be allocated to home and community-based care for the elderly. That allocation would be spread out over 20 years.

Ray DuCoeur, director of the Westmoreland County Area Agency on Aging, said a bus from the Oak Hollow YMCA in Irwin will be picking up seniors in Monessen and West Newton on Monday for the day-long trip. Interested people should call their local senior center for more details.

Also, the Mon Valley Senior Center will sponsor a bus departing from Charleroi at 6:30 a.m. on Monday. For more details, call 489-1100 or 379-6446.

Among those making the trip will be Johnella Anderson from the Monessen Senior Center.

'I'm going to see what the seniors will get from the settlement,' she said. 'I just want to see that the seniors and other qualified people get taken care of.'

'We're looking to accomplish more of an emphasis on in-home service,' said DuCoeur. 'We want to make an effort to ensure a fair share of the settlement proceeds are directed toward in-home care.'

DuCoeur, of West Newton, said the majority of older persons in need of health care prefer to remain in their homes, if possible, rather than receive care in a facility

He said studies have shown that care administered to seniors in their homes costs about one third compared to costs associated with providing care in a facility.

In Westmoreland County, DuCoeur said 400 people are currently on the waiting list for personal care and home health services.

'They've already been assessed, so we know they need it,' said the director. 'Most of them are struggling.'

DuCoeur said the Westmoreland agency serves more than 2,000 elderly who receive personal and home health care and more than 15,000 seniors who receive some type of agency-sponsored service, such as home-delivered meals.

The Pennsylvania Association of Area Agencies on Aging maintains that long term care reform will offer a way to level the playing field for the vast majority of elderly Pennsylvanians who are neither very rich nor very poor. These people often face paying $4,000 to $5,000 a month for nursing home care, according to the association.

It claims the reform will also serve to maximize consumer dollars while creating no new financial burdens for the state.

In addition, the in-home care will allow the assets of elderly persons to last six to eight times longer and will help eliminate or reduce waiting lines.

DuCoeur will be among those attending Monday's 1 p.m. rally on March 19. 'We're going to play our role, even if it's a long trip,' he said.

The Governor's Office and the departments of Welfare and Aging have worked for a year in developing the reform package.

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