Democratic gubernatorial candidates take on the issues The graying of Pennsylvania

Posted: May 14, 2002

Pennsylvania has the second-oldest population of any state in the union. What challenges and worries does that pose for the next governor, and how will you deal with them?

Bob Casey Jr.

At 2 million and counting, Pennsylvania ranks second only to Florida in its percentage of older residents. More than 16 percent of the commonwealth's population is over the age of 65, and the fastest growing segment is made up of those who are 85 years old and older. By the end of the decade, Pennsylvania will have an additional 65,000 residents over the age of 85.

As auditor general, I have fulfilled my pledge to serve as an advocate for older Pennsylvanians by leading the fight to improve the quality of long-term care, expand prescription drug coverage, and safeguard programs funded by the State Lottery.

Our first-ever performance audits of the commonwealth's oversight of long-term care, personal-care homes, and home health-care agencies have forced dramatic change. For example, we exposed a nursing home crisis after finding that the Department of Health responded late to life-threatening complaints. Gov. Ridge subsequently acknowledged the crisis, instituted sweeping changes, and accepted the health secretary's resignation.

I also released a detailed action plan to improve the quality of long-term care in Pennsylvania. The plan included recommendations such as protecting residents who report abuse, publishing a comprehensive nursing home report card, and providing cost-effective public funding for assisted living.

Because lowering staff turnover is the key to improving the quality of care, I have focused unprecedented attention on the long-term care staffing crisis. We convened Pennsylvania's first statewide symposium on the "culture change" movement, which affirms the value of residents and the direct-care staff who care for them. The members of the new Pennsylvania Culture Change Coalition are committed to identifying and sharing the "best practices" in long-term care that will lead to better jobs for frontline workers, lower staff turnover, and higher quality care for residents.

During this campaign, I have identified several more ways to improve the health and security of older Pennsylvanians, including plans detailing how the commonwealth can protect employee retirement funds and reduce the burden of high property taxes.

I have also released a plan to provide prescription drug coverage and significant price discounts to low- and middle-income seniors. At the same time, my plan would eliminate the projected deficit in the lottery fund and protect the other lottery-funded programs that benefit older Pennsylvanians. And, because it relies on new federal dollars, increased lottery revenues, and cost-saving measures, my plan accomplishes these goals at no additional cost to state taxpayers.

To learn more about the candidates' positions, go to inquirer.philly.com/opinion and select "Candidates on the issues" or see www.IssuesPa.net.

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