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Bill O Boyle: Casey seeks information on nursing home staffing shortages, inspection delays

Times Leader - 9/18/2022

Sep. 19--WILKES-BARRE -- U.S. Sen. Bob Casey this week said some state survey agencies have reported vacancy rates of up to 50% among inspection staff, affecting agencies' ability to carry out oversight work to protect the health and safety of nursing home residents

Casey, D-Scranton, is pushing for information on how staffing shortages at state survey agencies are affecting their ability to ensure the health and safety of residents at long-term care facilities.

Casey is sending a letter to survey agencies in all 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, after reports from federal watchdogs repeatedly link staffing shortages at survey agencies with failures to conduct timely, high-quality nursing home surveys.

The Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services (OIG) issued a report in January identifying "staffing shortages as a root cause of State survey performance problems."

As of mid-August, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services data show that nearly 30% of the national total of nursing homes are overdue for these standard surveys.

"State survey agencies are integral to ensuring the health and safety of Americans reliant on our Nation's health care providers, ranging from hospitals to nursing homes to intermediate care facilities and more," Casey wrote. "These agencies play a particularly important role in oversight of the country's more than 15,000 nursing homes, enforcing federal standards related to medical care, adequate staffing and safeguarding residents from abuse and neglect, among others. By conducting comprehensive inspections, known as standard surveys, every 15 months and promptly investigating complaints, state surveyors are the eyes and ears ensuring quality care is delivered."

Current and former state survey agency officials have reported challenges hiring and retaining surveyors, which affects the frequency and quality of nursing home surveys, as local governments experience broader challenges attracting and retaining workers.

In order to fulfill the annual requirements, states have used stopgap measures including hiring contract inspectors at high costs, encouraging overtime for surveyors and sending surveyors outside their regular regions.

Gov. Wolf highlights efforts leading

to feeding more older Pennsylvanians

Gov. Tom Wolf this week highlighted efforts to improve accessibility and awareness for Pennsylvania's Senior Food Box Program, which is now feeding 20% more seniors than it was this time last year.

"Fighting hunger has been a top priority for Frances and me from day one," said Gov. Wolf. "I'm incredibly proud of the work that the departments of Agriculture and Aging have done to revitalize this program that ensures our older Pennsylvanians don't have to choose between paying for utilities or putting food on the table."

In early 2021, Pennsylvania was at risk of having its approved caseload for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program -- now more favorably coined as the Senior Food Box Program -- decreased as the program was underutilized by Pennsylvania's eligible population of older adults. More than 300,000 Pennsylvanians are eligible to receive food through the program, but as of May 2021 only 28,000 were taking advantage of the opportunity.

Noting that seniors often face barriers to access for food assistance programs because of issues such as transportation, mobility, or technology, the Department of Agriculture, which administers the program in partnership with Hunger-Free Pennsylvania, set to work to improve awareness and accessibility for the program.

"One hungry older Pennsylvanian is one too many. Through valued partnerships, we're working towards an ultimate goal of eliminating hunger," said Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding. "And I'm proud to say, we're making progress for our seniors."

Since May 2021, the Department of Agriculture has:

--Renamed the Commodity Supplemental Food Program to the Senior Food Box Program to better relate to its beneficiaries.

--Removed income verification requirements and transitioned to a self-declaration of eligibility.

--Hosted a listening session with First Lady Frances Wolf to hear first-hand experiences and recommendations for program improvements from those already receiving the box.

--Partnered with DoorDash to offer seniors the opportunity to have their monthly food box delivered to their door for free. DoorDash delivery is now available in 15 counties including Bucks, Columbia, Dauphin, Erie, Fayette, Franklin, Lancaster, Lebanon, Luzerne, Montgomery, Montour, Philadelphia, Washington, Westmoreland and York.

--Partnered with the Department of Aging and the PACE Prescription Assistance Program call center to proactively contact and enroll eligible seniors in the program. To date, PACE has processed more than 20,000 applications.

"Access to nutritional foods for older adults is critical to help support their health, well-being and independence," said Secretary of Aging Robert Torres.

Meuser, colleagues seek help

for 9/11 responders, survivors

U.S Rep. Dan Meuser, R-Dallas, this week joined in writing a letter addressing the urgent need to protect the health care of first responders and survivors suffering from 9/11 related illnesses, who are at risk of losing access to benefits as soon as 2024.

Members of Congress Andrew R. Garbarino (R-NY) led a group of Republican cosponsors of the 9/11 Responder and Survivor Health Funding Correction Act, in urging House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone (D-NJ) to bring the legislation up for a full committee mark-up. H.R. 4965 would address a funding shortfall in the World Trade Center Health Program (WTCHP) and ensure its adequate funding now and in the future.

The letter follows a previous letter, sent nine weeks ago, during which time no movement on the legislation has taken place.

The Members wrote in part:

"In July, we, Republican cosponsors of this legislation, sent you a letter urging you to work with us in a bipartisan manner to find a pay-for and bring forth H.R. 4965 for a full committee mark-up. As we noted then, if Congress does not quickly address this impending crisis, then the men and women who put their lives on the line and who survived the 9/11 terrorist attacks will lose health coverage to treat the physical and mental illnesses that they sustained on that fateful day.

"Congress has a responsibility to uphold our promises," the members continued. "We implore you not to turn a blind eye to the hardship 9/11 responders and survivors are facing and urge you to move this critical legislation forward without further delay."

The WTCHP provides medical treatment and monitoring for over 117,000 responders and survivors from the World Trade Center and lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and the Shanksville, PA crash site, who live in every state and in 434 out of 435 Congressional Districts.

"We have made a pledge to never forget what happened on Sept. 11," Meuser stated. "Providing continuing health care to those who selflessly responded on that day is of paramount importance and an obligation we must uphold."

Resolution introduced to honor

baseball player Roberto Clemente

U.S. Senators Bob Casey, D-Scranton, Bob Menendez, D-NJ, and Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh Valley, this week introduced a resolution to honor the athletic career and humanitarian and civic work of Roberto Clemente.

Sept. 15 marks Major League Baseball's annual Roberto Clemente Day, as well as the start of National Hispanic Heritage Month.

Ahead of the 50th anniversary of Clemente's 3,000th regular season hit on September 30, the congressional resolution formally recognizes Clemente's immense legacy on and off the field and his work as a prominent Afro-Latino baseball player who had to overcome racial and linguistic discrimination.

"Roberto Clemente left an indelible mark on the city of Pittsburgh, Major League Baseball and the countless people he inspired over the course of his tragically short life and career," said Sen. Casey. "Half a century after his greatest accomplishment on the baseball field, this resolution honors his legacy as a legendary Pittsburgh Pirate whose athletic skills were matched only by his commitment to humanitarian work and his tenacity in the face of discrimination."

"Roberto Clemente's phenomenal baseball career was only upstaged by the noble and selfless life he lived off the field," said Sen. Toomey. "During the off-season, Clemente spent his time in his beloved Puerto Rico doing charity work, and he lost his life while flying to help people in Nicaragua after a deadly earthquake. To this day, Clemente remains an idol to Latin American ballplayers and fans everywhere. With this resolution, on Roberto Clemente Day, the U.S. Senate recognizes Clemente's incredible life and legacy."

"Roberto Clemente is one of our sport's greatest humanitarians. His Hall of Fame career on the field combined with his generosity away from it has left an indelible legacy in our game. As we celebrate Roberto Clemente Day today, his philanthropic impact continues to inspire our players who are giving back to their communities in extraordinary ways," said Major League Baseball.

Reach Bill O'Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.


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