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A state advocacy group is using its mission to change the way care is delivered to older adults via a new initiative aimed at changing the long-term care ecosystem.

LeadingAge Pennsylvania launched LTSS Evolve last month to identify and change  “antiquated, redundant and burdensome long-term services and supports rules, regulation policies and guidances” through collaboration with state policymakers and other stakeholders.

The initiative will center on direct input from senior living and care providers and residents to rethink policies that no longer serve the best interests of Pennsylvania’s older adults and their caregivers, LeadingAge PA President and CEO Garry Pezzano told McKnight’s Senior Living. The focus is improving access, he said.

Much to improve

“We want to help older Pennsylvanians access care and want them to live where they deem most appropriate for them, and also provide the best support for them,” Pezzano said. “We’re all about choices.”

Aging services professionals often feel as if they are treading water in their day-to-day operations, LeadingAge PA Director of Regulatory Affairs Anna Warheit told McKnight’s Senior Living. LeadingAge PA heard anecdotally that many small things could be improved, she added, so the organzation formalized its effort to collect feedback from members and use it to inform changes. LeadingAge PA, she said, is looking to take on the work of assessing what realistically can be changed as well as what will have the most effect on quality of care for older adults.

An advisory group of members helped LeadingAge PA develop and launch LTSS Evolve, including facilitating listening sessions with members. LeadingAge’s government affairs team will analyze the collective feedback to determine specific issues to address with policymakers.

In the coming months, she said, LTSS Evolve will establish priorities and narrow down the issues it will tackle, while trying to leverage its relationships and partnerships with various groups “to start having honest conversations and bring creative solutions to the table.”

“We want to be very intentional about it and make sure that the way we’re addressing things has a real impact in a positive way,” Warheit said. “We’re being very intentional but are looking to have real change, whether that is legislative fixes, the way regulations are interpreted. It will be very issue-specific, but we are looking to make sure things do change.”

Pezzano said that many regulations and policies across the aging services continuum are “simply not achieving their intended effect.”

Moving to proactive advocacy

“It’s time we disrupt the current system and seek meaningful reforms to better serve our older adult population with the dignity and respect they deserve,” Pezzano said. “Our vision for LTSS Evolve is to lay a new foundation for long-term care and senior services in Pennsylvania, one that allows providers to play an active role in evolving how they care for older adults, with the goal of spending more time directly engaging with care recipients and being valued in their local communities and across the commonwealth.”

Pezzano added that LTSS Evolve will enable LeadingAge PA to proactively advocate for aging services providers rather than reacting to proposed legislation.

“Some of the work that is going to come from this is being able to tell the story from the provider perspective, the resident perspective,” he said. “You really need to demonstrate how there is a better way to get the work done, and the most effective way to do that is through advocacy using real-life stories.”

One of those real-life stories came from LeadingAge PA Board Chair Vicki Loucks, vice president and chief operating officer of Redstone Presbyterian SeniorCare. 

Back in 1993, with her nursing degree in hand, Loucks landed in a nursing home, vowing to work a couple of months before she would find a “real” nursing job. But along the way, she realized she was in a real nursing job, making a difference in the care, dignity and independence she was able to give to residents. 

LTSS Evolve, Loucks said, is an opportunity to “ignite some change” across a system that still uses outdated regulations. 

“We need to change some of what we’re doing to get a better outcome,” Loucks said, adding that regulators and providers all are seeking the same end result. “Everybody wants the same outcome. We just need to focus on how to get there and provide better care and services to the seniors.”

The long-term care industry is at an inflection point, she said.

“That inflection point is our industry coming out of the pandemic and all the lessons we learned, working with a workforce shortage that has the potential to be crippling to the healthcare industry, and we’re looking at funding that’s not been able to meet the care demands,” Loucks said. “The inflection point is how do we change that moving forward.