Interviews & Profiles

Q&A with State Senate Aging & Youth Chair Judy Ward

The state senator speaks on issues with aging in place and the state’s 10-year plan for seniors

State Sen. Judy Ward

State Sen. Judy Ward State Sen. Judy Ward's Office

Pennsylvanians – and their long-serving lawmakers – are keenly aware of the aging commonwealth and the growing needs of the elderly population. State Sen. Judy Ward, now in her tenth year representing part of central Pennsylvania, is among the lead voices on such issues as chair of the Senate Aging and Youth Committee. 

As a registered nurse, Ward has sought to prioritize health care, professional development and more as she serves the 30th Senatorial District in parts of Blair, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata and Mifflin Counties. Ward spoke with City & State about the state’s aging population, aging adults’ biggest concerns, and what she would like to see the Senate do to address the population’s ongoing needs. 

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What issues do aging adults bring up to you the most? 

Health care, accessibility and affordability of health care are important issues. The senior population in the commonwealth will greatly increase over the next decade and some of them may be disabled or have their needs change, so it’s important to have a plan in place for folks as they age. 

My mom passed away about two years ago and she was five months away from her 100th birthday. She had a stroke with not a lot of residual (neurological deficits), but it left her unable to drive and that kind of led to some social isolation. We put her in an adult day program and had a transportation service come and pick her up, but we had to start having more home services, and eventually, she had to be in a skilled care facility. We saw that continuum … so it’s very current and pertinent to my life right now. 

Is it difficult to balance the want for people to age in place with the need for them to receive the right kind of care?

I represent five rural counties, and it becomes even more challenging in a rural community. The Senate Aging & Youth Committee is trying to address this issue, and the Secretary of the Department of Aging embarked on creating a 10-year plan to better serve the needs of senior citizens and the disabled … We plan to, hopefully, together with the House committee, hold a hearing to hear the results of the plan in detail. 

What has the reaction been to the Aging Secretary’s “Aging Our Way, PA” plan?

It’s been a good reaction. Aging Secretary Jason Kavulich visited many counties and held town hall meetings. He came to Blair County, talked about his hopes for the plan, and asked for input. 

I’m definitely getting into that category of having more years behind me than in front of me, so this is a great way to draw attention to some of the issues with our older adults and how we can proactively address them. 

Addressing the aging population's needs seems to be one of the few topics in Harrisburg that garner a broad consensus. Would you agree?

Yes – and I would like to shout out my minority chair, state Sen. Maria Collett. She’s a fabulous partner in all of this. Our committee is very nonpartisan and we’ve always been in lockstep (on many issues). This is a very nonpartisan issue – caring for our valuable senior citizens. 

Can you speak on how your bill, Senate Bill 668, will allow nurse aides to pursue medication administration certification and, more broadly, how the state can cultivate a future workforce needed to meet care needs? 

That’s a big concern. I think it’s been helpful that many community colleges are getting on this bandwagon, and many career and technology centers are offering courses for nursing … Geisinger Lewistown Hospital School of Nursing just opened a new facility that will enable them to have two classes running at the same time. 

Schools have answered the call of hospitals and nursing homes that they need skilled workers and trained workers. My bill would be helpful to now allow nurses’ aides to do more things and have more responsibilities with courses so it can be a career ladder for them. 

Are there any other legislative priorities that the committee could take on soon?

Sen. Collett and I work so well together – for example, through our committee hearings, we were able to call attention to the issues during COVID with the lack of PPE in nursing homes. We held a hearing on that and things started to move. And with getting testing supplies and vaccines, we held hearings and wanted it to be a priority. I admire Sen. Collett because we really try to do what is right for older adults. I’m really proud of the work that she and I have done together to help older Pennsylvanians.

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