2003-06-04 / Seniors

Senior Spotlight

Mayor Restores Seniors
By John Toscano
Senior Spotlight By John Toscano

Mayor Restores Seniors’ Program With Council Prodding

In a surprising development on the budget for seniors, Mayor Michael Bloomberg on Sunday announced that he had reconsidered cutting a major senior aid program out of the budget and was alloting $1.6 million in his executive budget to keep the program alive.

City Councilmember David Weprin (D–Hollis), Finance Committee chairman, in informing this column about the mayor’s unexpected action, said the council had made retention of the Extended Service Program a top priority and had been negotiating with the mayor’s aides to keep the vital social service program in this year’s budget.

"We were pushing hard to restore it and suddenly on Sunday the mayor announced that he was providing the funds to keep it in the budget," Weprin said.

Strongly urging the council was the UJA Federation of New York and its Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty. According to Amanda Britz, the agency’s manager for Jewish Network News, one portion of the seniors’ budget cut was the Extended Services Program, a public–private partnership between the government and non-profit organizations. Britz said that, last year, 400,000 Jewish seniors [throughout the city] received vital social services under the program, including cash assistance, case management, protective services, eviction prevention, entitlements, transportation assistance, food and other crisis help. The program, she added, covers thousands of low-income elderly and others who are in very serious need "without this program, many of those currently served will have few if any sources to which to turn for support," she said.

At its peak, Britz states, annual funding for the program was $2.4 million, but after cuts totaling 32 percent during the past two years, the program is now one of a small number of programs targeted for total elimination in the mayor’s proposed budget.

"So far," says Britz, "forty city councilmembers have signed a letter asking Mayor Bloomberg to restore this funding, which, if eliminated, will change the quality of life for many Italian, Greek, Polish and Jewish seniors and others living in the five boroughs."

Individual seniors can help in this effort by writing to or calling the mayor’s office to ask him to find ways to leave the program in the budget. In past years, the council has been successful to varying degrees in keeping senior services provided for in the budget.

NURSING HOME IMPROVEMENT: The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) which supervise these two major federal health care programs, recently began the Nursing Home Quality Improvement program, an effort to improve services from an industry which serves large numbers of seriously ill seniors.

CMS has contracted with more than 50 Medicare Quality Improvement Organizations (QIOs), to assist in the massive nursing home improvement study. The QIOs are located in all 50 states, the Virgin Islands and Washington, D.C.

For New York state, CMS contracted with an organization called IPRO, which is based in Lake Success in Nassau County. In a recent new release issued by IPRO, Dr. Clare B. Bradley, senior vice president and chief medical officer, explained its mission.

"CMS was very interested in finding and hiring experts to review medical practices and began to identify nonprofit health care review organizations as potential contractors in each state," Bradley stated. "We were created in 1983 in response to that call for assistance to improve health care and are now the CMS quality improvement organization for our state.

"Since then, we have evolved into proactive quality improvement specialists. We have a staff of physicians, nurses and health and communications professionals in various fields who work directly with health care providers and assist them in bringing about quality improvements. We also fulfill our mission by providing the general public with information regarding health care issues. For example, we recently completed statewide campaigns to educate consumers [to] the importance of getting flu shots and pneumonia shots."

In recent years, as more and more seniors have entered nursing homes, serious complaints about the services these facilities provide have often arisen, and there have been demands that state and federal governments take action to improve such institutions.

Bradley said IPRO believes most of the nation’s 17,000 nursing homes provide good, quality services but the quality of care is often inconsistent and can vary from facility to facility. She stated that a major thrust of the CMS nursing home improvement program is to establish a set of quality criteria that consumers can use to compare nursing homes, and can act as a baseline measure for future quality improvement. "Prior to this, no single set of comparison measurement criteria for nursing homes existed," Bradley said.

Dr. Bradley added that the current effort is different from previous ones. "It’s the first time that consumers have been given the opportunity to access this much information about nursing home quality without ever leaving their homes or offices." She said information can be accessed on the Medicare web site at www.medicare.gov or by calling toll-free 1-800-633-4227.

IPRO can be reached by calling 1-516-326-7767 or by logging on to http://www.ipro.org.

MEETINGS: North Flushing AARP Chapter No. 4158 meets next Tuesday at noon at Church-on-the-Hill, 167-07 35th Ave., Flushing. Featured will be a talk on "Diabetes: The Silent and Often Mis-Diagnosed Disease."

Officers will be installed at the annual luncheon of Jackson Heights AARP Chapter No. 991 on Wednesday, June 18 at 1 p.m. at the Cavalier Restaurant, 85-19 37th Ave., Jackson Heights.

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