Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) are required under the Older Americans Act to complete an Area Plan on Aging every four years for the delivery of aging services in their county (or counties). AAAs are responsible for programs and services including older adult protective services, caregiver support programs, congregate and home-delivered meals, health and wellness programming, care management, and transportation services. The Area Plans set goals, strategies, and performance measures for improving service delivery, program development, outreach, and other supports for older adults in the community. These Area Plans are submitted to their state’s unit on aging (in Pennsylvania, the PA Department of Aging).

The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) is the Area Agency on Aging for Philadelphia County. A draft of the PCA Area Plan for 2020-2024 was released this month, outlining PCA’s priorities for the next four years. A public hearing was held virtually to present this plan and to receive feedback from community members, aging services professionals, and other stakeholders.

The LGBT Elder Initiative provided the following testimony on the PCA Area Plan at their virtual hearing on Thursday, July 16th:

Good morning and thank you to the PCA staff and board members who are here with us today to hear feedback on PCA’s Area 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 Pennsylvania Long-Term Care Council, the Managed Long-Term Services and Supports Subcommittee, the Governor’s Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, and a member of PCA’s Advisory Committee.

I would like to speak today about the need for this Area Plan to comprehensively address the needs of LGBTQ older Pennsylvanians and the growing number of older adults who are living with HIV. PCA has been a great partner to us at the LGBT Elder Initiative and we appreciate the work that PCA has undertaken since its last Area Plan in 2016 to continue to develop its LGBT cultural sensitivity and its partnerships with LGBT-serving organizations. We also appreciate PCA’s consideration of the survey data that we gathered through the Aging Workgroup of the Governor’s Commission on LGBTQ Affairs, as this was often cited in the narrative of the Area Plan.

This survey, which was completed by over 400 service providers and LGBT Pennsylvanians – over 100 of whom were from Philadelphia – did demonstrate several trends that warrant future action.

Roughly half of the LGBT Philadelphians in the survey could not identify their AAA. The Area Plan does set a goal of expanding LGBT community outreach and developing marketing strategies to better reach diverse populations. This work is greatly needed in order to connect more LGBT older adults with PCA’s services, especially in the time of COVID-19 when many of our LGBT elders are even more isolated than they were previously.

95% of LGBT Philadelphians responding to this survey said that they would be more likely to utilize an agency’s services if they knew that organization had completed LGBT cultural sensitivity training. The Area Plan does speak more broadly about cultural sensitivity and implicit bias training as an important component of providing person centered care. We urge PCA to incorporate LGBT content into these training opportunities and make them widely available to the aging services network in the city. Such trainings are also an opportunity to explore issues of intersectionality when discussing racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia. Requiring the provider network to complete cultural sensitivity training around LGBT issues was one of the top priorities identified by both providers and LGBT community members in our survey.

The draft Area Plan makes notes of the importance of SOGI data – that is, data collection on sexual orientation and gender identity – though only commits to identifying new data collection tools for piloting. Any data collection that PCA is using needs to be collecting data on sexual orientation. Sound public health policy relies on data to inform policy development, service delivery, and program evaluation. Until PCA and the agencies it funds 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. This is essential data that we need to collect if we truly care about supporting LGBT Philadelphians. We are happy to support PCA in this endeavor and work with the AAA network, the Department of Aging, and the Cultural Diversity Advisory Council.

Thank you again for the opportunity to share these comments today. I’d also like to acknowledge PCA for their leadership over the past four months in adapting services in the face of COVID-19 and ensuring that older Philadelphians could still access meal programs, elder abuse protection, and other vital services.

Please know that the LGBT Elder Initiative will be there to support the implementation of any of the recommendations that go into the 2020-2024 Area Plan on Aging.

Thank you.