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The ‘staggering costs’ of Pa.’s dementia crisis

Plus, Pa. Republicans who backed vote-by-mail law now suing to overturn it.


A daily newsletter by Spotlight PA
Your Postmaster: Colin Deppen
September 3, 2021
Looming threat, widespread damage, voting challenge, prison business, school safety, UPMC lawsuit, and a squash court for the people. It. Is. Friday! Rejoice.
It wasn't long after Candy Loughney was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease that her symptoms began to worsen. 

Run-of-the-mill forgetfulness gave way to severe bouts, coupled with wandering, disorientation, and occasional self-harm. 

After inexplicably eating a medicated bar of soap, the beloved grandmother was hospitalized and placed into a long-term care facility under lock and key and constant supervision.

Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians, like Candy, live with Alzheimer's disease or a related dementia disorder. And that number is expected to soar in the coming years as the baby boomer generation, one of the largest in U.S. history, continues to age.  

But advocates told Spotlight PA and PublicSource that a lack of nursing home beds and staff, enormous costs of care, and the state's own stalled action plans have placed the commonwealth and its residents in even greater jeopardy.

THE CONTEXT: Seven years after a plan commissioned by then-Gov. Tom Corbett outlined steps the state should be taking to prepare for a public health emergency on a scale rarely seen, major provisions remain incomplete or uninitiated

This includes a study of the economic impacts of rising dementia rates advocates warn could push Medicaid, a primary funder of related services, and Pennsylvania families to the brink. 

State officials blame a dearth of resources for the lack of movement, while a network of private-sector partners races to fill the gaps.

Still, families facing anguished choices with few resources say the costs — financial, emotional, and physical — are staggering. And an army of loved ones serving as unpaid at-home caretakers faces mounting health consequences of their own

"I didn’t ask him for anything, quite frankly, because to me, it didn’t matter." 

—York County Commissioner Ron Smith on the vetting of an embattled prison contractor who was sentenced to a British prison decades ago
COVID-19 UPDATE: Two FDA officials have resigned over the Biden administration's embrace of booster shots; a staffing crisis is forcing U.S. hospitals to pay top dollar for staff to meet the current demand; and a survey says most U.S. companies may soon mandate COVID-19 vaccines. To find the vaccine, use the federal government's online tool, call 1-800-232-0233, or text your ZIP code to 438829 (GETVAX).
LONG WEEKEND: We'll be off Monday for the Labor Day holiday but will be back in your inbox bright and early on Tuesday. See you then.
» FUNDAMENTAL FLAWS: Join us Thursday, Sept. 9 at noon ET via Zoom for a free Q&A on addiction treatment oversight issues in Pennsylvania and how the state can keep people safe as they pursue recovery. Register for the event here and submit your questions to events@spotlightpa.org
Thanks, Robert N., for this shot of Julius Sturgis Pretzel Bakery in Lancaster County. May your holiday weekend be filled with many more salty snacks. Send us your gems, use the hashtag #PAGems on Instagram, or tag us @spotlightpennsylvania.
FLOOD TOLL: Deaths and damage were being tallied in Pennsylvania and across the northeast Thursday after the remnants of Hurricane Ida swept across the region. Roughly 120 Pennsylvania National Guard members were placed on active duty statewide.

MAIL CASE: Fourteen state Republican lawmakers are challenging Pennsylvania’s expanded mail voting law in court, the AP reports. The law passed in 2019 with support from many of them but fell out of favor amid criticism from former President Donald Trump.

PRISON WAGES: Prison labor programs often lose money, despite paying prisoners minuscule wages. NBC News reports Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections did not explain in a 2005 audit how 14 prison businesses lost more than $7.7 million before being restructured.

'RED ZONE': At least six sexual assaults and attempted assaults were reported at Penn State’s main campus in August, the most in a single month since 2016, Centre Daily Times reports. The start of the fall semester, called the "red zone," is when such assaults usually peak.

UPMC SUIT: The federal government has filed a civil complaint against UPMC, its head of cardiothoracic surgery, and a physician group, accusing them of knowingly submitting hundreds of false claims to Medicare and knowingly putting patients at risk, TribLIVE reports.
OOH, THAT SMELL: A stink that wafted over Pittsburgh this week, compared to the smell of burning rubber, was pollution trapped near the ground by low inversion layers that happen when a layer of cold air becomes trapped underneath warm air, WESA reports.

WATER WORLD: Philadelphia saw significant flooding after Wednesday's storms, submerging the Vine Street Expressway and prompting some ill-advised impromptu rafting. In hard-hit New York City, rats became poetry in motion, while central Pennsylvania beavers roamed more freely than usual.

PLAY NEXT: The second episode of WHYY's "Half Vaxxed" podcast is out now and continues to untangle Philadelphia's doomed partnership with a "22-year-old with no health care experience who talked his way into a COVID-19 vaccine distribution deal he thought would make him millions."

NO GO: If you were planning to head south to Tennessee for the Bonnaroo music festival this weekend, don't: It's been canceled for a second straight year after rain left the sprawling grounds an absolute mess, per WPLN. Philly's Made in America music fest, meanwhile, is still on, per WHYY.

GET SQUASHED: A historic armory in Philadelphia has been converted into public squash courts in a bid "to democratize a prep-school sport," The Inquirer's architecture critic Inga Saffron reports. 
Unscramble and send your answer to scrambler@spotlightpa.org. We'll shout out winners here, and one each week will get some Spotlight PA swag.
Yesterday's answer: Labyrinthine 

Congrats to our daily winners: Susan F., David I., Nancy S., Beth T., William M., Doris T., Neal W., Don H., Craig E., George S., Myles M., Michelle T., Dianne K., Suzanne S., Kim C., Dennis M., James B., Carol D., Bill S., Kimberly S., Elaine C., Susan D., Karen W., Joel S., Lex M., and Elizabeth W.
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