Health Care Changes Needed for Pennsylvania Seniors

By Andrea Sears, Public News Service
for The Post

HARRISBURG PA – Within 20 years, western Montgomery County and the remainder of southeastern Pennsylvania – the most diverse and densely populated part of the state – is likely to see huge growth in its aging population, a new report projects. But it also warns those older residents will need kinds of health care the current workforce seems unprepared to provide.

The study issued by AARP Pennsylvania and Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions suggests new competencies will be “needed for a culturally diverse group of older adults,” distinguished professor and Drexel Dean Dr. Laura Gitlin said. “Different kinds of cultural competence, and knowledge of evidence-based care for prevention and chronic disease management, is severely lacking,” she added.

Older Pennsylvanians face complex and serious health conditions. To provide for their future health care, newcomers entering the field require geriatric care training, the study notes. It makes recommendations for developing of a culturally competent health-care workforce.

Disparities in access to health care exist beyond the confines of greater Philadelphia, particularly in rural areas and among under-represented racial and ethnic groups.

The state’s elderly are predominantly white, poor, and live in less populated towns and villages, according to Angela Foreshaw-Rouse, AARP Pennsylvania manager of state operations and outreach. Fourteen percent live in medically under-served areas, she said; 22 percent live in areas with shortages of health professionals.

The inequities became more apparent and pronounced during the pandemic, Foreshaw-Rouse said. The report also found people age 65 and older are less likely to use digital technology that has become critical for telehealth visits, and to find COVID-19 vaccinations.

As a result, providing broadband access across the state will be vital, Foreshaw-Rouse contended. What’s additionally needed, she said, is “not only access to high-speed internet connectivity, but also technology and the literacy to use the technology. We know that our internet access is not available equitably across the state, and that is something that we can change.”

Disclosure: AARP Pennsylvania contributes to a Public News Service fund for reporting on budget policy an priorities, consumer issues, livable wages and working families, and senior issues.

Photo by Cristian Newman via Unsplash, used under license