Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak visited Doylestown last week to meet with Bucks County seniors to discuss elder abuse, long-term health care, the growing senior population and other issues of his campaign.
The former congressman and U.S. Navy admiral was at the Central Bucks Senior Center, then took an 18-mile walk with supporters to Norristown, where he spoke about domestic violence.
“I’m doing this because I think the biggest deficit in America today is not the national debt. It’s the trust deficit. People don’t trust anything,” Sestak said. “We’re fighting for the soul of America today.”
In March, Sestak launched his campaign at Independence Hall, speaking almost the exact same words and vowing to spread his message as he walked 400-plus miles across Pennsylvania. In the same week, Sestak took a 26-mile walk through Lower Bucks County, where he touched on similar issues.
Using his book Walking in Your Shoes to Restore the American Dream as a launching point, Sestak focused primarily on elder abuse and health care for seniors.
“Today, I walk in the shoes of our seniors,” Sestak said. “Elder abuse, here in Bucks County, has gone up threefold in public reports over the last decade.”
He talked about the Elder Abuse Victims Act, legislation he authored during his time in Congress that focused on prosecuting those who abused seniors and had provisions for advocacy, prosecution of perpetrators and evaluation of programs on the state and federal levels. It passed in the House, but not the Senate.
Elder abuse, an issue he plans to take on again if elected, includes financial, physical, emotional and sexual abuse toward seniors.
“This abuse is a massive issue,” he said. “We spend about $6.7 billion on abuse against women every year. We put about $520 million, rightfully, into child sexual abuse. For seniors, it’s about $120 million. Talk about a population that’s robust and is just being left on the floor.”
The growing senior population must also be addressed in terms of health care and financial security, Sestak said. According to figures supplied by his campaign, the 65-plus population in the United States will grow from 40 million today to more than 70 million by 2030.
“We need to make sure that we get through this debt ceiling, but we have to make sure that seniors are taken care of,” Sestak said. “It’s an obligation that we have.”
In order to address some of these issues, Sestak sees in-home care for seniors to save money for Medicare and Medicaid. According to his figures, a home health aide costs about $20 per hour, whereas nursing home care is about $212 per day. The problem with that is the availability and quality of in-home care.
Sestak’s plan involves raising the wages of in-home caregivers to attract more people to the profession, providing tax credits for family members who care for elders and investing in finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. To sustain Medicare and Social Security, Sestak wants the government to fund programs that rein in Medicare fraud.
“This is one of a number of issues, but I consider it to be one of the more important issues because our population is so senior-heavy,” Sestak said.
Sestak’s primary opponents are Katie McGinty, former chief of staff to Gov. Tom Wolf, and John Fetterman, mayor of Braddock, in Allegheny County. Sestak said his priority remains the general election, where the winning Democrat would face Republican incumbent Sen. Pat Toomey.
“I stay focused on the people, what I want to do to serve them. Senator Toomey is not serving the people of Pennsylvania,” he said. “I’ll stay focused on the general, and everything else will fall into place.”