PCA serves as invaluable community resource and advocate for older adults

Alicia Colombo

By Bill Conallen


Much concern and confusion often exist regarding exactly how older adults can go about obtaining the resources they may need to ensure that they can maintain a level of independence which preserves dignity and/or promotes growth. Information and referral programs, offered through Philadelphia Corporation for Aging (PCA) help people identify, understand, and effectively connect to a broad range of programs that will address their needs for services and support to help them age well at home and in the community.

Congress passed the Older Americans Act (OAA) in 1965 after policy makers raised concern about the lack of community social services for older adults. The law established the Administration on Aging (AoA) to administer new grant programs and to oversee government programs for older people. Among the first services under the OAA were information and referral programs offered by local Area Agencies on Aging, including PCA in Philadelphia County. These services aim to help older adults, adults with disabilities and caregivers connect to needed programs and resources within their communities.

“Older adults who are in need of answers and help often do not know where to begin, so they may not get the assistance they require, or they may waste a lot of time searching through various websites or calling multiple agencies with mixed results,” said Wanda Mitchell, PCA’s director of community engagement. “Thanks to services offered through PCA, older people can receive the information they need from a trusted community advocate.”

Under the leadership of Mitchell, PCA’s Community Engagement Department maintains an active presence in Philadelphia County, representing PCA at more than 350 events, including health fairs, senior expos, faith-based gatherings, community events and block parties, each year. Through this outreach, the agency shares information about home- and community-based programs, including transportation, nutrition, senior community centers, volunteer and employment services, legal, ombudsman, and health promotion initiatives offered through PCA.

“Our department performs an essential role in advising our consumers about the resources at the disposal of PCA. After all, the better and more accurately informed and involved our community is, the more likely they are to trust the institution engaging them and seeking to improve their lives,” said Mitchell.

Another vital resource that connects older adults, caregivers, professionals and the public with information about and referral to programs and services for Philadelphians who are age 60-plus or who have disabilities is PCA’s Helpline. Each year, PCA Helpline staff connects more than 100,000 Philadelphians with the resources they need by coordinating transportation services, taking reports of suspected elder abuse, making referrals for care management and home repairs, and administering crisis grants from the Emergency Fund for Older Philadelphians.

“The most common calls we get are general questions from concerned citizens looking for more information about the services that PCA provides,” said Nolan Lawrence, PCA Helpline Director. “We also often assist older adults with issues related to financial abuse, as well as other protective services concerns. Our team of 30 dedicated and knowledgeable specialists and supervisors undergoes a rigorous training process to excel in their positions and the department has operated with this commitment to service since PCA was established in 1973.”

The Helpline gives callers information about resources available both through PCA and outside agencies, including the City of Philadelphia. Resource referrals can be anything from home-delivered meals to legal services to financial benefits. If a Heat Health Emergency is declared for Philadelphia County, the PCA Helpline becomes the City’s Heatline to counsel callers of all ages about precautions to take against the heat and detecting signs of heat stress.

“Services, such as the Helpline, are a prime example of the indispensable advocate PCA continues to be for older Philadelphians when it comes to education and outreach,” said Lawrence. “Connecting older adults with information and services is the Helpline’s mission. We are the front door of PCA and take this role to heart.”

The Older Americans Act mandate also extends to policy advocacy and pertains to issues impacting the older adult population. PCA has long worked as an advocate for appropriate funding to meet the needs of older adults, including for home-and community-based services. This in turn supports the agency mission of consistently informing it’s consumers of the tools and resources at their disposal to enrich their lives as they grow older.

“As an Area Agency on Aging it is important to communicate with and educate leaders about PCA programs and services, as well as the importance of social connections and efforts to decrease isolation among vulnerable populations,” said Gail Garrett, PCA’s legislative affairs manager. “With so many concerns top of mind for legislators and their staff about what needs to be done on behalf of their constituents, a large part of my role is to advocate for older Philadelphians by informing leaders of needs and the services available through PCA.”

PCA’s information and referral mandate seeks to empower individuals to make their own choices when they are searching for support and services. The agency’s role is not only education, but also affirmation, collaborative planning and problem solving. Anyone seeking information or referral to a service or program can call the PCA Helpline at 215-765-9040. For general inquiries, call weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Confidential reports of suspected elder abuse can be made 24/7. Information can also be found on PCA’s website at pcaCares.org.


Bill Conallen is the public relations specialist at Philadelphia Corporation for Aging.

Categories: Milestones eNews News about PCA

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