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Lawmakers: Nursing home care reform is needed

Efforts to reform nursing home care have drawn the attention of lawmakers at both the state and federal levels.

U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Zionsville, and Robert Casey, D-Scranton, have joined in a bipartisan effort to enhance accountability among the nation’s poorest performing nursing homes.

The Nursing Home Reform Modernization Act of 2021 would ensure more facilities that have consistently failed to meet federal safety and care requirements can receive additional oversight and enforcement as well as technical assistance and educational programming.

“It’s one thing to put an under-performing nursing home on a list and leave it at that. It’s quite another to put that nursing home on a list and ensure the providers, workers and residents receive the support they need to improve and provide high-quality care. The Nursing Home Reform Modernization Act of 2021 will do that,” Zach Shamberg, president and CEO of the Pennsylvania Health Care Association, said.

Michael Plummer, a spokesman for U.S. Rep. Fred Keller, R-Kreamer, said the federal legislation is not something they can respond to at this time.

State Rep. Jeff Wheeland, R-Loyalsock Township, said he applauds any movement at the federal level to improve nursing home care.

“I have some pretty strong opinions on nursing homes,” he said. “They are under-staffed and the people are underpaid for the work they do. It takes a very special person to take care of our elderly. Any human being that does that work should be honored.”

Wheeland said it’s a bit early in the state’s legislative session to know for sure what bills might address the issue. And, funding is always an issue.

“There are always more needs than dollars,” he said.

State Rep. Joe Hamm, R-Hepburn Township, noted that more than half of COVID-19 deaths in the state in the past year occurred in nursing and long-term care facilities.

As a result, the House Government Oversight Committee will investigate the Wolf Administration’s handling of the state’s response to the pandemic.

“We need an investigation,” he said. “At that point, we can put together a package of legislation.”

State Sen. Gene Yaw, R-Loyalsock Township, noted there has been movement toward care improvements.

Among the legislation is a House bill that would result in an increase in the minimum required daily hours of direct resident care from 2.7 to 3.5 hours.

He noted that legislation is also being introduced from the last session to require the Department of Health to ensure that no individual testing positive for a communicable disease within 14 days is placed in a facility without going into isolation.

Yaw said lawmakers have contacted Auditor General Timothy DeFoor to review Department of Health and Department of Human Services policies, staffing and handling of the COVID-19 pandemic in long-term care facilities.

Legislation signed into law as Act 138 provides an avenue for Temporary Nurse Aides hired during the emergency who meet certain requirements outlined under the law to become Certified Nurse Aides.

Officials from five area nursing homes did not respond to efforts by the Sun-Gazette for comment for this story.

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