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Editorial: Taking care of elderly pays debt

Wednesday, January 16, 2019  
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Editorial: Taking care of elderly pays debt

Pennsylvania has learned hard lessons about protecting its children in recent years, from the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal to the failures of ChildLine to the Catholic Church grand jury report.

We’ve taken deep looks at the value of our kids and the consequences of not protecting them. Hopefully, as a state and as people, we are learning.

Now we have to take what we have learned and apply it to another group.

We need to protect our elderly population.

The Office of the State Inspector General released a report last week that was critical of the handling of abuse complaints by county Area Agency on Aging offices.

“Among the shortcomings identified … were failures by some county-level agencies to properly investigate complaints under timelines required by state law and inadequate staffing of the state office that monitors those agencies,” the Associated Press said.

It is remarkably similar to what Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s reports said about child abuse reporting in 2015 and 2016.

The scary part also echoes DePasquale’s comments then. “Any single one of those could have been a life-or-death situation.”

And as much as we value our children, we can’t forget to value our elders.

Pennsylvania, according to the Census Bureau, is fourth in the nation in terms of percentage of seniors, and the population is getting older — which means more of our aging population to protect.

In the 2017-18 fiscal year, there were 32,000 calls made reporting potential abuse or endangerment. Five years ago, it was 18,500.

The Inspector General’s report shows where we need work. It shows that county offices need to improve. It shows caseworkers need to be better trained. It shows the state office needs to be better staffed.

That’s a good outline to have now because our elderly population needs all the protection it can get, especially as it becomes older and older.

The report comes as Gov. Tom Wolf is making changes in the Department of Aging, with its secretary, Teresa Osborne, being moved to the Civil Service Commission and Acting Secretary of State Robert Torres being advanced for the Aging seat.

Hopefully, that makes a difference. Hopefully, more reports are handled, with more trained caseworkers taking the calls and more people in Harrisburg knowing what to do about the needs of our older residents.

Those older residents have paid us in advance with a wealth of experience and knowledge. We have to acknowledge the value of that debt.

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