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Measuring the value of personal care homes in Pennsylvania

Personal care homes will have to shut down if more funding is not received.

By Ann Kunkel, Vice President of Community Health & Engagement, WellSpan Health

The ‘Expert Voices’ submissions are for educational purposes only. They are written by marketing staff at Capital Blue Cross and Wellspan Health, in coordination with the experts listed. They are not connected to news coverage by WITF or Transforming Health. Information in these posts is not meant to replace professional medical advice or treatment plans. Capital Blue Cross and Wellspan Health encourage you to contact a qualified health care professional to discuss your individual health concerns.

I am a big fan of personal care homes such as Faith Friendship Villa, where 74 people live in Lancaster County. The big white house with the wraparound porch along Main Street in Mountville is a remarkable place.

Courtesy of WellSpan Health

Ann Kunkel, Vice President of Community Health & Engagement, WellSpan Health

At least 80 percent of the residents of this personal care home have been diagnosed with mental illness, such as severe depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. The supportive, dependable environment of Faith Friendship has enabled some of them to hold down jobs, restore relationships with their families, and create strong bonds with others – things we all yearn for in our lives.

“I asked one gentleman what he liked about Faith Friendship and he said, ‘First, the food is great, and second, I don’t hear voices anymore,’” Tammi Morris, the home’s chief executive officer, said. “We know that when people are in community, they do better overall. They take better care of themselves. This is a way for people to be physically and mentally healthier and connect with other people.”

Personal care homes like Faith Friendship provide a stable home for older people and people with mental health challenges or physical or cognitive disabilities. Across the state, 1,200 of these homes provide food, shelter, and assistance with basic activities such as eating, walking, bathing, taking medications, and many other tasks.

Pennsylvania would not be a healthy state without these personal care homes and their vital support of 46,000 of our neighbors who call them home.

And yet the future for Faith Friendship and other personal care homes is uncertain, due to the lack of support that personal care homes receive from government programs.

Right now, personal care homes receive just $39 a day per resident in government support, of which the state supplies just $14.44. The state’s contribution to the daily Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment has not increased since 2006. More than 410 personal care homes have closed since 2008 and those accepting the SSI payment struggle to maintain their properties, retain staff, and keep their doors open.

That is why a coalition of health care organizations are advocating that the Pennsylvania Legislature approve Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposed $50 million annual budget increase for the supplement. That increase would boost the daily supplement to $72 a day per resident in personal care homes across the state.

Here’s what Tammi says the boost would mean for Faith Friendship: badly needed updates to bedrooms, bathrooms, and the home’s decaying wraparound porch; better pay to help attract and retain staff; and additional support for residents from specialized professionals such as a physical therapist or social worker.

“Personal care homes eventually will have to shut down if they can’t get the resources they need,” Tammi says. “I don’t know what would happen to all of Faith Friendship’s residents if that would occur. It would be tragic. This is a lifeline.”

That is why we support extending this crucial lifeline to the residents of Faith Friendship Villa and thousands more like them across the state.

During the COVID‐19 pandemic, the state legislature and Governor Wolf worked together to direct emergency federal funds to protect the residents of these homes – one of the few states to do so. Let’s work together again by approving this much-needed increase to the personal care home supplement.