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Report Reveals PA Health-Care Access Disparities

by Andrea Sears, Keystone State News Connection

May 10, 2021
A young nurse in a mask gives a coronavirus vaccination to an elderly man in a clinic.

A new report shows Pennsylvanians are experiencing disparities in access to health care, especially in rural areas and among under-represented racial and ethnic groups.

The report, by AARP Pennsylvania and Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions, showed gaps in access to health care the authors say will continue to grow as the state’s population ages.

Angela Foreshaw-Rouse, manager of state operations and outreach for AARP Pennsylvania, said 14% of Pennsylvanians live in medically underserved areas, and 22% live in areas with shortages of health professionals.

“Geographic, racial and economic factors restrict access to health-care services for many Pennsylvanians, creating disparities that have become more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Foreshaw-Rouse stated.

The report also found people age 65 and older are less likely to use the digital technology that has become critical for telehealth visits and to find COVID-19 vaccinations.

The report noted older Pennsylvanians are predominantly white, poor and live in rural areas.

Dr. Laura Gitlin, dean and distinguished university professor at Drexel University, cautioned by 2040, Southeastern Pennsylvania, the most densely populated and diverse part of the state, will see huge growth in its aging population.

“New competencies are needed for a culturally diverse group of older adults,” Gitlin asserted. “Different kinds of cultural competence, and knowledge of evidence-based care for prevention and chronic disease management, is severely lacking.”

She added the current workforce is unprepared to address complex and serious health conditions and lack training in geriatric care.

The report makes recommendations for developing of a culturally competent health-care workforce, and Foreshaw-Rouse argued providing broadband access across the state will be vital.

“Not only access to high-speed internet connectivity, but also technology and the literacy to use the technology,” Foreshaw-Rouse urged. “We know that our internet access is not available equitably across the state, and that is something that we can change.”

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