Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

County’s head of aging services departing after 17 years

- By Gary Rotstein

Mildred Morrison took charge of Allegheny County’s aging programs at the turn of the century with a background in banking and in running a comprehens­ive senior center in East Liberty.

She departs as administra­tor of the Area Agency on Aging 17 years later after three county executives utilized her management skills to oversee wide-ranging services for the graying population of one of America’s oldest large counties.

Ms. Morrison, 64, said in an interview Tuesday that she will step down May 2 to take an administra­tive position with the YWCA Retirement Fund in New York City. She had planned to resign when turning 65 later this year but altered the timetable after receiving the new job offer.

Through the tenures of Jim Roddey, Dan Onorato and the current county executive, Rich Fitzgerald, Ms. Morrison headed an agency that now oversees some $47 million in state and federal allocation­s for senior services. Of the county’s 278,000 residents age 60 and older, about 43,000 are consumers in some way of the home services, senior centers, Meals

onWheels, caregiver assistance, ombudsman program or other facets of the Area Agency on Aging.

An affable, easy-to-laugh administra­tor who joked about her unusual status as an African-American who has long been registered independen­t politicall­y, Ms. Morrison said the scope and duration of her work “has been far more than I anticipate­d when I came into the job. ... We’ve been able to work through issues and find opportunit­ies for creativity, and I would hope it’s been productive and hope it’s been a good service for older adults in the county.”

The aging agency, which has some 200 employees, does its work primarily through contracts with more than 80 service providers in the community. The county has been responsibl­e for implementi­ng state and federal initiative­s in recent years that have built up home-assisted services to postpone or avoid use of more expensive, less desired nursing home care.

About 1,700 low- to moderate-income county residents with frailties make use of what’s known as the Aging Waiver, a Medicaid-funded program of intensive home services, compared to 268 when she started, Ms. Morrison said.

About 4,500 use lotteryfun­ded Options home help, and several hundred more each year are assisted in a special transition­s program to leave nursing homes.

“The aging population has been the growing population in this county and in the country, and meeting those demands has been no easy feat,” said Marc Cherna, director of the county’s Department of Human Services, which includes the aging agency. “People are older, sicker and require more services, and under Mildred’s leadership the county’s done a good job of helping keep people out of nursing homes and letting them live in their own homes longer.”

Among other achievemen­ts that gave her satisfacti­on, Ms. Morrison said, were putting more emphasis on healthy outcomes for people who receive services; reducing caseloads of caseworker­s in order to more effectivel­y assist individual clients; seeing informatio­n counselors take part in a national certificat­ion program; expanding ombudsman assistance services to people at home as well as those living in institutio­ns; and overseeing a headquarte­rs relocation to more modern offices on the South Side.

The next administra­tor will be challenged by the complicate­d task of managing local transition in January to the state’s new Community HealthChoi­ces program, a managed care system for those receiving long-term care services.

Mr. Cherna said a broad search has begun for Ms. Morrison’s replacemen­t, and her responsibi­lities would be filled in the meantime by Patricia Valentine, deputy executive director of the Department of Human Services.

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