Pennsylvania senior citizens struggle under ‘Maximus’ care

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- At a Dauphin County Commissioners meeting in late November, Commissioner George Hartwick did not mince words in bringing up the way he felt senior citizens were treated across Pennsylvania.

"It's a travesty," he began. "All we see on TV is Gus the scratching groundhog saying 'All the lottery proceeds go towards senior citizens.' We're receiving less money. Having less conversation. We're seeing delays in services of up to 8 to 10 months in some cases."

The services Hartwick was speaking of come from Maximus Inc., a Virginia-based firm, hired by Pennsylvania's Department of Human Services for $15 million. Maximus was hired to review and process applications for federal money available to help seniors pay for specialized, in-home care. The application process was supposed to take under 60 days, under the terms of its contract. However, many seniors have reported to waiting for months on end to receive the care they need.

"Dammit, we should do better by seniors," says Hartwick. "They paid taxes. They are eligible for services. They're not sandbagging off of a system."

Maximus began processing applications for the state in April 2016.

Ted Dallas, Pennsylvania's Secretary of Human Services, says there is typically a 90-day "lag period" for any outside, private group to adjust to a new system. From June to July though,  the number of monthly enrollments for the aging waiver plummeted from 857 to 285.

"It was a rocky transition," Dallas said. "Even the vendor (Maximus) would admit they stumbled out of the gate."

Secretary Dallas admits the Department of Human Services could have done a better job communicating its message to Maximus. Part of the problem, he said, was not listening to how individual counties' aging agencies handled the application processes prior to the change. Area Agency on Aging employees in the counties previously handled the screening, but Maximus took over in April when federal officials deemed it to be a conflict of interest that the aging offices were reviewing applications for the services they ultimately would end up providing.

Dallas said DHS had to "first look at ourselves" to realize some of the problems.

"We underestimated the amount of work associated here," Dallas said.

Better staffing, improved policies and procedures, and better contact and coordination with local folks and providers in the community have since improved Maximus' ability to more adequately handle monthly enrollments. The amount of processed applications has steadily risen since it bottomed-out in July. In December, a record 1207 enrollments were processed.