The Pennsylvania Department of Aging hosted a Virtual Community Conversation on Tuesday, July 7 to discuss its State Plan on Aging for 2020-2024 and to receive feedback from the public and community stakeholders throughout Pennsylvania. The State Plan on Aging is designed to help Pennsylvania meet the objectives of the Older Americans Act and will be submitted to the Administration for Community Living (ACL) containing a vision and direction for Pennsylvania’s network of aging services. The Department of Aging is required to submit a plan every four years.

The LGBT Elder Initiative has been pushing for the past several years for Pennsylvania’s State Plan on Aging to more effectively address the LGBT community and older adults living with HIV. Working with the Pennsylvania Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, we submitted a series of recommendations to the Department of Aging in May. Among these recommendations were to: Increase and promote the availability of LGBTQ cultural competence resources and trainings for aging network providers; develop and implement data collection processes that capture data on sexual orientation and gender identity; use the Department of Aging website and communications platforms to share information and resources on topics related to HIV, and to continue developing relationships with LGBTQ-serving organizations across the Commonwealth.

We were pleased to see that many of these recommendations were included in the preliminary draft of the 2020-2024 State Plan. The Department of Aging is expected to make this draft public in the coming weeks.

The LGBTEI submitted the following testimony to the Department of Aging:

Thank you, Secretary Torres, for the opportunity to share testimony today on the Pennsylvania Department of Aging’s State Plan on Aging for 2020-2024.

My name is Heshie Zinman. I am one of the founders of the LGBT Elder Initiative. I am also proud to serve as a member of the Long-Term Care Council, the Managed Long-Term Services and Supports Subcommittee, and the Governor’s Commission on LGBTQ Affairs.

I would like to speak today about the importance of this State Plan comprehensively addressing the needs of LGBTQ older Pennsylvanians and the growing number of older adults who are living with HIV. We are grateful for the work that the Department of Aging has been doing over the last few years, including the 2018 LGBTQ Aging Summit, your completion of SAGE cultural competence trainings, and your LGBTQ community outreach. 

Still, we know that essential work remains to ensure that emerging needs in our communities are effectively met. 

Sound public health policy relies on data to inform policy development,  service delivery, and program evaluation.  Until the aging network collects comprehensive data on sexual orientation and gender identity, we will not have resources, services, or policies that can fully understand or address the needs of LGBT older adults. In the survey that was conducted through the LGBTQ Aging Workgroup, we found that only a quarter of providers were including questions on sexual orientation and gender identify in client intakes and other agency paperwork. Collecting this data through the Department of Aging and the provider network will better identify any gaps in services and the effectiveness of existing programs in reaching LGBTQ communities. This is essential data that we need to collect if we truly care about supporting LGBTQ Pennsylvanians.    

The LGBTQ Aging Workgroup’s survey also demonstrated that there is a sizeable portion of our LGBTQ elder community that is unaware of the services available through PDA and the AAA network. Continuing to outreach to the LGBTQ community and partner with LGBTQ-serving organizations will connect more members of our community to existing services and resources. PDA’s website and communications channels are also a valuable platform for sharing information with providers and older adults about LGBTQ aging and issues related to HIV. Speaking personally as a long-term survivor of HIV, I would love to be able to go to PDA’s website and see resources on managing HIV as a chronic illness. Most people living with HIV in Pennsylvania are now over the age of 50. It is important that the provider network become more informed on these topics and that people growing older with HIV are supported with information and resources.   

Sadly, past State Plans have not sufficiently accounted for the needs in our communities, or even addressed their existence at all. We are optimistic, given the great work already underway in your Department, that this new State Plan will take the important step in recognizing our communities of LGBT older adults and those living with HIV, and identify concrete strategies to improve the inclusivity of the aging services network and reduce barriers to services that exist for our older adults.  

Please know that we will be there to support the implementation of any of the recommendations that go into the State Plan. Thank you.