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William O'Boyle: Casey introduces legislation to protect nursing home residents and workers

Times Leader - 2/28/2021

Feb. 28—U.S. Sen. Bob Casey this week said more than 170,000 residents and workers in long-term care settings have died From COVID-19, accounting for approximately 35 percent of deaths in the U.S.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton, and fellow Senators Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) are introducing legislation to curb the rising death count and assist with vaccinations.

The COVID-19 Nursing Home Protection Act would provide funding to ensure that nursing homes have the resources they need to keep residents and workers safe; funding would go towards providing vital infection control assistance and organizing local health and emergency workers — known as "strike" or "surge" teams — to manage COVID-19 outbreaks and care for residents.

The legislation would also require demographic data collection on the virus in nursing homes.

"The challenge this terrible virus poses is unprecedented and requires an immediate and extraordinary response," Casey said. "That is why my colleagues and I are advancing strategies to give states what they need — funding for 'strike' teams to help address staffing shortages in nursing homes and assist with vaccinations in these settings. We have an obligation to protect our most at-risk citizens."

The COVID-19 Nursing Home Protection Act would provide $750 million in funding to states to implement strike teams and $210 million for the Secretary of HHS to contract with quality improvement organizations to provide essential infection control assistance to nursing homes.

The bill would also require the HHS Secretary to collect and make public demographic data on COVID-19 cases and deaths, including information on age, race, ethnicity and preferred language.

Casey said the effects of the pandemic have been most devastating in communities of color, where research has found that facilities serving significant numbers of Black and Hispanic residents had case and death counts three times higher than in facilities serving a higher proportion of white residents.

Toomey reintroduces legislation

that would reduce maternal deaths

U.S. Senators Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) are teaming up again to reintroduce their bipartisan legislation aimed at reducing maternal deaths and improving the health outcomes of pregnant women and mothers enrolled in Medicaid.

"Hundreds of women in the United States die each year as a result of complications from pregnancy and childbirth, but as many as two-thirds of these deaths are believed to be preventable," Toomey said. "By bolstering information and resources to better monitor and treat at-risk pregnancies, this legislation will help improve health outcomes for pregnant women and mothers enrolled in Medicaid. I am glad Sen. Brown and I are continuing this important effort, and am hopeful our colleagues on both sides of the aisle will join us in reducing maternal deaths."

"A mother's chance of surviving pregnancy shouldn't depend on her zip code or the type of insurance she has," said Senator Brown. "Too many mothers are dying. As the death rate continues to skyrocket, the disparities in maternal mortality have increased along with it, further contributing to the Black maternal health crisis — and that has to change. By meeting moms where they are, listening to health experts, and establishing best practices, we can improve health outcomes and keep more of our mothers and children healthy and safe."

In recent years, physicians and researchers have placed a heightened focus on preventable pregnancy-related deaths in the United States.

Research shows that the leading causes of death related to pregnancy are cardiovascular and coronary conditions, following by infections, hemorrhage, pre-eclampsia and eclampsia, and cardiomyopathy. Decreasing severe maternal morbidity will help decrease maternal mortality.

In 2018, Medicaid financed nearly half of all US births, and in some states, provided coverage for more than 60 percent of births. While the Medicaid program plays a critical role in addressing our nation's maternal mortality crisis, pregnant women on Medicaid are more likely to experience higher rates of severe maternal morbidity and mortality than pregnant women with private health insurance.

Medicaid beneficiaries, over-represented by low-income communities and people of color, experience higher rates of chronic illnesses, and are at higher risk of adverse health challenges. Senators Toomey and Brown have introduced the Supporting Best Practices for Healthy Moms Act to bolster the federal government's effort to assist states in reducing these rates.

The Supporting Best Practices for Healthy Moms Act would create a diverse, representative National Advisory Committee on Reducing Maternal Deaths to:

—Establish best practices for all Medicaid-covered maternal care providers and clinicians to screen, monitor, and treat at-risk pregnancies;

—Generate culturally competent materials to help inform pregnant women of potential risks during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum;

—Identify best practice for tracking maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity trends; and

—Report to Congress on potential payment disincentives or regulatory barriers to the transfer of pregnant women between facilities before and during birth, as well as during the postpartum period.

Meuser names Coccodrilli

as new district director

Dan Meuser, R-Dallas, this week announced the hiring of Northeastern Pennsylvania native and former State Director for USDA Rural Development, Curt Coccodrilli, as District Director.

In this new role, Coccodrilli will oversee constituent outreach, manage the Pennsylvania-based offices, and will be heavily focused on local development.

"Throughout his career, Curt has been a tireless advocate for economic development and restoring prosperity in rural Pennsylvania," Meuser said. "His experience, relationships, and leadership skills will be a tremendous asset to our team as we strive to provide 'best-in-class' constituent services for the people of the 9th District."

"I am grateful to Congressman Meuser for giving me the opportunity to continue serving our commonwealth as District Director for the 9th District," Coccodrilli said. "I am committed to deepening my relationships with stakeholders in the community, ensuring that our offices operate in a customer-focused manner and deliver real value to the people we serve."

About Curt Coccodrilli

Coccodrilli grew up on a family farm in Lake Ariel, which sparked his passion for improving rural America.

In 2017, he was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as State Director for USDA Rural Development in Pennsylvania.

He was instrumental in creating partnerships with numerous other federal agencies and Pennsylvania stakeholders to promote essential programs such as broadband connectivity.

As a member of the USDA Opioid Task Force, Coccodrilli hosted the first national opioid roundtable in Pennsylvania.

Coccodrilli also Chaired the USDA National Task Force on Energy and through his leadership, partnerships have evolved which created more effective collaboration across selected federal agencies.

DHS provides update on latest

Medicaid, SNAP enrollment data

Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller this week detailed January 2021 public assistance enrollment numbers and reminded Pennsylvanians that safety-net programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Medicaid are available to individuals and families who are struggling to afford food or access health care.

"Our public assistance network is designed to be a lifeline that makes sure people can go to the doctor, have enough to eat, or pay their utilities as other bills and needs arise, even in our most difficult times," Miller said. "No one should feel like they have to endure the stress, anxiety, and uncertainty that many have experienced in the last year alone. Hope is ahead, but there is still great need in our communities. If you or someone you know could use a hand, please let us try to help so we can emerge from this crisis together."

Enrollment statewide for Medicaid has increased by 366,068 people since February 2020, for a total enrollment of 3,197,631 people in January 2021 — a nearly 13 percent increase.

Pennsylvanians who have lost health coverage or are currently uninsured and need coverage for themselves or their children may qualify for coverage through Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Enrollment for SNAP statewide has increased by 82,270 people since February 2020, for a total enrollment of about 1,819,729 in January 2021 — a 4.7 percent increase.

SNAP helps more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians purchase fresh food and groceries, helping families with limited or strained resources be able to keep food on the table while meeting other bills and needs.



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