Lancaster County’s Health Advisory Council plans to meet bimonthly in 2024 rather than quarterly.
The council initially met monthly when it formed in 2022, but decided that September to shift to a quarterly schedule.
That was because their agendas were light, member Diane Garber said. Lately, though, that’s been changing, with more project discussions taking place.
“I think we have a sufficient agenda” to warrant meeting more frequently, member Dolores Reidenbach said.
The council was formed to share health information and provide input to county leaders. The majority of its Friday meeting, its last one of the year, was taken up with presentations from three visitors: Crystal Natan, executive director of the county’s Children & Youth Agency, Katie Wilcox from the Office of Aging, and Justin Eby, Executive Director for the Lancaster County Housing and Redevelopment Authorities. Each spoke about their respective agency’s work.
Natan said there were 2,500 reports of child abuse in Lancaster Conty last year and 3,500 reports of neglect.
“That’s a large caseload,” she said.
The agency gets help, she explained, from other stakeholders, including school districts, law enforcement, medical providers such as Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health and nonprofit service providers such as Community Action Partnership and Cobys Family Services.
“We have a fairly weighty responsibility in the community,” she said. “We are out on those front lines … You’re trying to make very difficult decisions on a quick time frame.”
Statewide, agencies are struggling with a shortage of appropriate placements for children who need to be removed from homes, she said, calling the situation “somewhat of a crisis.”
Board member Loren Miller noted that there can be additional challenges when cases involve Plain Sect communities, which traditionally limit their contact with the outside world.
Natan said her office, like many social service providers, struggles with turnover. Its vacancy rate currently stands at 15%.
“We’re making a little headway,” she said. “It ebbs and flows.”
Wilcox gave an overview of the Office of Aging, which administers online programming and a network of eight senior centers.
“We work with people to tailor services to their needs,” she said. But that can be difficult, she said. More seniors are struggling with a lack of money for housing; others are hoarding, increasing fire and safety risks. As the population ages, the office is preparing for a “silver tsunami” of broader elder care needs, she said.
Eby presented the Lancaster County Homelessness Coalition’s 2023 “Point in Time” count, which documented 526 homeless individuals. Of those, 69% were over age 24, and 25% were under the age of 18; 419 were in shelters or transitional housing, the other 107 were documented sleeping outdoors.
“It’s not surprising,” he said, noting that homelessness is increasing nationally. “It’s ever-changing … There are a lot of issues.”
He and the board discussed the local rental market. Rents are up an average of 12% to 15%; according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition, it takes a wage of $24.73 an hour to afford the median two-bedroom apartment here.
The county’s Whole Home Repairs program, Eby said, has 120 applicants in the pipeline and 40 projects in process. The program, funded with state American Rescue Plan Act money, is intended to help lower-income households stay in their properties by funding essential fixes, such as new roofs or replacement windows.
Board members asked Eby to return for more discussion at their next meeting.