Blog Post

PCA: A legacy of caring

By Shannon Reyes

Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) proudly serves over 140,000 seniors in Philadelphia. The organization contracts with close to 250 service providers to offer more than 20 senior programs to older adults. With such a long list of services, it’s hard to imagine anything but PCA as it stands today. Yet in the early ‘70s, PCA began with just meals, personal care aides, transportation and the helpline (known as SARA, at the time). Prior to then, there was no federal mandate for senior services.

That all changed with the passage of the Older Americans Act in 1965, which allowed states to receive grants to help older adults age in place, including in-home and community-based programs. In 1973, the Older Americans Act established Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) to provide seniors these programs. PCA was founded that same year, and with Rodney D. Williams serving as executive director, began offering its original programs in 1974.

The following year, PCA began funding senior community centers throughout the city. Today, PCA operates 28 senior centers and satellite programs. These centers allow for seniors to socialize, enjoy various programming and eat hot lunches together.

In the span of the next 10 years, services offered at PCA grew at an exponential rate. In 1979, PCA also created the Emergency Fund for Older Philadelphians, which is responsible for delivering more than $3.9 million of emergency funds to older adults since its inception.

While Holly Lange currently serves as the president and CEO of PCA, her time with the organization began in 1988 when she joined PCA as a deputy director. Later, she was named the senior vice president and chief operating officer of PCA.

“When I came in 1988, the services we had were senior centers, transportation, a little bit of home care, legal services and ombudsman,” Lange says. “That year, the state-authorized AAAs to provide family caregiver support and adult protective services. Adult protective services were previously housed in the city’s Department of Human Services.”

PCA continues to work closely with the city on a number of initiatives for the betterment of Philadelphia’s older adults.

Two decades after the helpline began, the heatline was established through a partnership with the city in 1994, following one of the deadliest summers in the city’s history. PCA activates a heatline when the city declares a “heat health emergency.” The heatline serves as a lifeline for older adults experiencing the effects of extreme heat, providing information such as tips to cool down and locations of cooling centers. A year later, in 1995, APPRISE was launched. APPRISE is Pennsylvania’s State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) that assists those eligible for Medicare in selecting coverage. That same year, PCA was also the first AAA to provide the Aging Waiver Program in Pennsylvania.

After 39 years of service, Williams retired in 2012 and Lange was named his successor in 2013. Of PCA’s many accomplishments during her time as president and CEO, Lange is especially proud of the organization’s ability to foresee the future especially during the evolution of the assessment and the Aging Waiver Program, which is now Community HealthChoices. This ability, she attributes to significant growth of the agency. In July 2019, PCA Care Connections was created by PCA to help to meet the long-term care needs of adults by contracting with Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) as part of the changes associated with Community HealthChoices.

Lange also believes the most important aspect of running a successful AAA is being in tune with the older adult population. “We’ve also been working with the senior centers on more health promotion programs,” Lange says. “All of the senior centers now have exercise programs and computer programs, because we heard the members of those centers ask for them. We always try to keep up with what older adults want from their community services.”

To this day, PCA continues to meet the needs of those in the community, despite the fact that public funding has failed to keep pace with the demand for services over the years. Approximately 40% of all older adults in Philadelphia are considered to be low-income and tend to need more services.

Despite these challenges, Lange is confident that PCA will always find a way to meet the needs of older adults. “Our mission is to improve the quality of life for older Philadelphians and those with disabilities and to assist them in achieving the greatest possible levels of health, independence and productivity,” Lange says. “That was our mission in 1973 and it will continue to be our mission in 2020.”

To learn more about PCA’s services, visit pcaCares.org or call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040.

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Shannon Reyes is public relations specialist at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

CAPTION: PCA has been advocating for the rights of seniors since its inception. Older adults at a legislative hearing in 1975 protest cuts to personal care services.