No one was listening. Most legislators were unaware that there was even a problem. The administration was slow to understand and acknowledge the impact of their actions – and time was running out for older Pennsylvanians in desperate need of help.
The Program: Thousands of older Pennsylvanians who qualify for nursing home care and for Medicaid were eligible to receive wraparound in-home care through Pennsylvania’s Aging Waiver program. This program served as a lifeline for older Pennsylvanians, keeping them out of expensive, less effective nursing homes, and allowing them to stay where they wanted to be – in their own homes. County Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) have always been there to help navigate the complicated system of services for these vulnerable Pennsylvanians with care and dignity.
The Problem: The Secretary of the Department of Public Welfare – acting under new, unregulated powers granted to him by the state legislature under Act 22 to find $400 million in “waste, fraud, and abuse” – began making unilateral, arbitrary regulation changes and rate cuts to balance a budget based on short-term thinking. With time running out to find savings, the Secretary informed the County AAAs that they had one month to implement dramatic, traumatic cuts and regulation changes. The AAAs had no advance notice and no input into the process.
The Impact: Immediately the AAAs knew their consumers were in trouble. No longer could they afford to spend the time necessary at the kitchen table with an elderly widow to explain the process, find the necessary forms, fill out the proper applications, and pick the best service providers to help her stay in her home. No longer could the AAAs afford to send a nurse out to check on and provide basic services for the retired grandfather who simply asked not to be shipped off to a nursing home. One AAA after another began to announce their withdrawal from providing this vital program that had worked for the consumer, the taxpayer, and the state for years.
The Turning Point: Almost no one was aware of the problem, and those who were weren’t listening. Legislators had no oversight and had just broken for the summer recess. Putting all their hopes into working with the Secretary of DPW to find a solution, the AAAs hoped he would see reason and reverse himself, but they only encountered roadblocks. Denny Civic Solutions, managing the Campaign for What Works, recognized the severity of the problem and saw an opportunity to reverse the decision and win on behalf of older Pennsylvanians.
Step one – Understanding the issue inside and out and making it simple for others to understand. The actions of the Secretary were driving seniors into nursing homes even when staying in their homes was the best option for both themselves and the wallets of Pennsylvania’s taxpayers.
Step two – Quickly raising the level of awareness. Working with a new coalition of partners, the PA Senior Support Coalition, we targeted editors of major newspapers and those in key legislative districts to raise awareness of how the Aging Waiver program was being systematically dismantled. We mounted a significant social media campaign with its objectives all pointing at someone with the power to fix the mess – Governor Corbett.
Step three – Seeing an opportunity and taking it! Prior to taking on the aging issue, we had developed a relationship with a new, key State Senator who we were counting on to emerge as a champion for older Pennsylvanians. He was on the Aging committee, was close to the Governor, and, in short “had the juice” to make something happen. We had a previously scheduled meeting arranged by the Senator with both himself and members of the administration attending. Even though the meeting had been organized to talk about other issues, our Issue Number One dominated the conversation. We had the facts, the stories, the faces, and – most importantly – the right Champion in the room.
Step four – Keeping the pressure on while still offering a supportive hand. We continued our social and earned media pressure, but began working with the administration on a fast, short-term plan that would transform into a long-term solution. We also developed a “public recognition” plan to acknowledge the good work of the Governor in correcting an unfortunate situation.
The Conclusion: It worked. Funding was found, and commitments to develop a mutually beneficial long-term funding solution were made. The Campaign for What Works, a client of Denny Civic Solutions, gained new coalition partners in the AAAs and Senior Support Coalition, created a key legislative champion, increased the Campaign’s clout and respectability, but – most of all – helped keep vulnerable seniors healthy and safe in their own homes.