Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Get Smart--February

by Emily Anderson

Building Better Caregivers

This online six-week course is offered through the Jewish Community Center in Pittsburgh, but it's a national program developed by Stanford University to help people who are looking after a loved one with a cognitive impairment or memory loss. You can work through the classes at your own pace in your own time. The online course is free and has rolling start dates throughout the year. Call Sharon Fienman at 412-697-3533 or email her at for more information and to sign up.

Powerful Tools for Caregivers

This six-week course focuses on helping caregivers develop tools to manage stress, practice good self-care, make difficult decisions, and communicate emotional needs. More than 80,000 caregivers have taken this class across the U.S., and most report that it helps them feel less anxious, more confident, and more in control.

The free class starts on March 24 and will be held each Thursday from 10 a.m. to noon at the Area Agency on Aging. Spaces are limited, so call Brenda Slagle at 412-350-4996 or email her at to reserve a spot!

American Red Cross Family Caregivers Series

The Red Cross Caregivers series focuses on teaching practical skills for taking care of a loved one. The topics covered include helpful information such as how to give someone a bed bath, home safety, helping people move without hurting yourself, dealing with financial or legal matters, and more.

This free four-week course starts May 4 and is held each Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Area Agency on Aging. That sounds pretty far away, but it's never too soon to contact Brenda Slagle and reserve a spot. Call her at 412-350-4996 or email her at!

Other Events

Farm to Table Pittsburgh Conference
March 18-19, 2016 at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center
Seniors get free admission to this two-day event focusing on wellness and nutrition! Farm to Table also regularly hosts "Lunch & Learn" events to help all community members learn about local food resources. Check here to learn more and register.

How We Eat After Esophagectomy 
March 15, 2016 from 6:00-7:30pm at the Good Grief Center
Three professionals answer your questions about what to expect in the hospital and offer some ideas for how to adjust after an esophagectomy. Call 412-224-4700 to register for this free session.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

The Pennsylvania Health Law Project

Help for Understanding Healthcare

by Emily Anderson

The two main health-care systems that provide insurance for older adults are Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare is the insurance that people are eligible for when they turn 65 years old. Medicaid (called "Medical Assistance" in Pennsylvania, and for the rest this post), is available for people who have a low income or are in a nursing home. Some people, particularly older adults and people with disabilities, are eligible for both types of insurance.

Both Medicare and Medical Assistance are massively confusing to most people, tend to involve a lot of paperwork, and often become more urgent during already stressful times. It's after Dad has a stroke and has used up all his money, for example, that you find yourself trying to hunt down the documents you need to apply for Medical Assistance.

Luckily, in Pennsylvania we have a fantastic resource called the Pennsylvania Health Law Project (PHLP), which can help you or your loved one figure it all out! PHLP helps people who need to apply for insurance or who have been denied insurance coverage by Medicare or Medical Assistance. Let's break that down a little more.

First, if you don't already have insurance, PHLP can help you get it. They will help you figure out if you are eligible for state insurance programs like Medical Assistance or CHIP (insurance for kids). If you aren't eligible for those programs, they can help you find insurance through other avenues.
Second, if your Medical Assistance coverage was denied or discontinued, PHLP can help you understand why, and what you can do about it. If appropriate, they can then help you appeal that decision. This is also true if you or your loved one was denied a particular service under Medical Assistance, like home health aides, prescription drugs, or special equipment. PHLP can help you understand why your request was denied and how you can appeal or change that decision if possible.

PHLP is a nonprofit and non-governmental organization that does not charge for its advice. They are phenomenal experts in navigating the tricky waters of Medicare and Medical Assistance though. Through talking over the phone or meeting in person, they will give you advice and coach you to fix most of your problems on your own. If it needs to go further, PHLP can help you find a lawyer or can represent you for hearings and appeals.

One important note here: PHLP does not help with living wills, last wills, or power of attorney documents. If you want to learn more about that, check out our previous post on future planning.

To contact PHLP, call their Helpline at 1-800-274-3258. You'll leave a message and they will call you back. If you prefer, you can also email them at

If you are having trouble applying for, appealing denials of, or understanding Medical Assistance for your loved one, give PHLP a call! For more questions about what PHLP can do for you or your loved ones, check out their FAQs page here.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Free Tax Filing

by Emily Anderson

Between winter and summer there is one more short season: Taxes! There isn't much pleasant to be said about taxes, but for seniors and for people with low incomes, at least there are a few places where you can file them for free.

Help Filing Taxes 

There are several places that will help you file your taxes for free. Remember to bring your important documents with you--for a list of what that might include, check here!

Carnegie Libraries of Pittsburgh

The Carnegie Libraries make basic tax forms available to any person for free. In addition, they offer appointments for in-person help filing for tax returns, rent rebates, and more! Check out their page here to find tax services through the library that suit your needs.

United Way of Southwestern PA

If your household income was less than $54,000 in 2015, you can schedule an appointment to prepare your taxes for free by calling 2-1-1 through the United Way's Money In Your Pocket program. If your household made up to $62,000 last year, you can use the United Way's free software to complete your return.


Check out the AARP's free filing locations to find one that is convenient to you! Click on a location to see their hours and make an appointment.

Online Free Filing

There are many online services that offer free federal tax help. Try the IRS free filing portal to find a software that works for you. If your income is over the limit, you can still download fillable forms if you want to try your hand at completing your own taxes.

Death and Taxes

Unfortunately, even in death you can't escape taxes. If your loved one passed away in the last year, you may need to file a tax return for them. For more information on whether or not you need to file taxes for your deceased loved one, check this article or take the IRS quiz. You can then file your loved one's taxes using any of the resources listed above.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Transportation Options

Contributed by: Deanna Leyh

You have a 10:00am meeting at work tomorrow that you can’t miss. Your mother, whom you take care of, has a doctor’s appointment tomorrow at 10:30am, and she needs a ride there and back. You’ve asked her neighbor and your sister if they could step in to drive—they can’t. You’re in a bind. What do you do? Or maybe your dilemma is that your loved one is unable or unsafe to drive themselves anymore, but they’d like to retain their independence to go out to run errands or meet a friend for lunch. 

It’s times like this that it comes in handy to know about transportation options for your loved ones. There are a variety of state programs and community options that can help provide older adults with rides. Some programs are free; others require a small fee. It’s important to think about these transportation options in terms of cost, flexibility, area coverage, convenience, and ability of the individual. You and your loved one should weigh the options and decide which one is the best for them. 

Some of our state transportation programs include:

Pennsylvania’s Free Transit Program: 
Older adults 65+ can get free transit service on local buses or trolley routes anytime. All you need is to provide proof of age in order to get a senior citizen transit identification card in order to ride for free. To get a transit identification card or to learn more, contact 717-783-8025 and inquire about the program.
ACCESS 65 Plus: 
Older adults 65 and older can utilize door-to-door, shared-ride transportation services throughout Allegheny County for a small fee. This program requires that participants make a reservation for transportation at least a day in advance, and rides are provided between 6 a.m. and midnight, seven days a week. Again, proof of age is required when enrolling in the program. If you’d like to enroll, contact 412-562-5353 and ask about the ACCESS 65 Plus program to get an application.  

This program offers the same transportation service as ACCESS 65 Plus, except it is for individuals with disabilities who are not able to ride public transportation. People who wish to enroll in ACCESS ADA for paratransit must appear at the ACCESS office for an evaluation. Contact the ACCESS office at 412-562-5353 for more information.  

Medical Assistance Transportation Program (MATP): 
This program provides transportation to medical services for Medical Assistance consumers who do not have other transportation available to them. MATP can provide transportation through three options: tickets/tokens to ride public transportation, mileage reimbursement for use of a private car, or paratransit services. If you qualify for this program and would like to enroll, find your local MATP provider by visiting the Department of Human Services website and completing an application.

There are also community options for older adults to get a ride. In the last few years, a new transportation network has developed where individuals can use an app to connect them with drivers in their area who use their own personal vehicle to drive people to their destinations for a fee. There are a handful of transportation companies, like Über and Lyft that operate their own network of drivers. All you do have to do is download the app for one of these companies, set up an account, and then you can search drivers in your area available to take you to your destination at the time you choose. 

One of the benefits to these options is that individuals can usually get a driver fairly quickly, and there’s no handling of money since the financial transaction is completed through the account in your app. Most drivers are available within 15-20 minutes or less, but more rural areas or high traffic times might increase your wait time and/or the availability of drivers in your area. Also, networks like Über and Lyft use surge pricing, which could mean fares are higher if there are a lot of people ordering rides at the same time.  If you have a disability or require assistance getting in and out of a vehicle, be sure to check with the company to see if they can meet your needs. 

Here are some of the transportation networks in our area:

Über is a transportation network that expanded into the Pittsburgh area in the last few years that allows people to hail a ride through the Über app with drivers registered with company. Pricing varies depending on distance travelled; you can learn more about Über in Pittsburgh and how to get a ride at their website.

Lyft is another transportation network that also recently expanded into Pittsburgh that prides itself on community and its friendliness with passengers. You can use the Lyft app to create an account and start getting rides as you need them. Learn more about Lyft in Pittsburgh and their rates at their website.

Remember, there are many transportation options available for older adults in our area. As a caregiver, it can really help make your life easier to utilize these services, and as an older adult, these options can help you retain your independence. You just have to find the right one for you!