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Did you know that many workers at skilled nursing facilities, over 80,000 in Pennsylvania alone, rely on government assistance in one form or another? The median wage for these workers in PA is $13.01 per hour as of 2014. Most of these workers, especially those with families to support, rely on public assistance programs to make ends meet.

Yesterday a minimum wage strike took place on Tax Day, in which tens of thousands of workers, many of them fast food workers, took to the streets to protest the low minimum wage in the country. This has been a highly debated issue recently that we will probably see as an issue to be debated in the upcoming election.

The debate is mostly focused on the effects this wage increase would have on our country. Workers are asking for a $15 minimum wage nationwide. This would majorly decrease the amount of workers who rely on public assistance. What would the effects of this be for the rest of the country? That’s not entirely certain. Many opponents of the wage increase are claiming that it will lead to increased prices for consumers, including an increase in the cost of skilled nursing facilities, as well as an overall loss of jobs.

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The Centers for Medicare Services are making some changes to the rating scale for nursing homes. Many nursing homes in PA are worried that this may cause their ratings to go down.

Currently the rating system for nursing homes is on a 1 to 5 star scale. With eleven new measures of quality expected to be included in the updated rating system, about one out of every eight nursing homes in PA could lose on or two stars under the new system.

Some of the new criteria will include staffing levels at skilled nursing facilities, which has been under scrutiny for some time now. This focus was intensified by a recent New York Times article highlighting the issue.

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Due to substandard care at over 30 nursing home facilities, Extendicare Health Services will now have to pay $38 million in a settlement. The investigation began when two whistleblowers within the company filed complaints that the company was billing Medicare and Medicaid for substandard care, and unnecessary therapy.

The violations Extendicare was investigated for include failure to follow safety protocols, failure to have enough staff on the clock, and failure to provide the appropriate care for residents.  Some residents may have been injured due to this negligence including falls, head injuries, bed sores, fractures, malnutrition and other injuries that are very dangerous to older residents.

The 33 nursing home facilities in question were located in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Kentucky, Indiana, Washington, Wisconsin and Minnesota.

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On July 31st, Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky of Illinois introduced Put a Registered Nurse in the Nursing Home Act or H.R. 5373. This new bill calls for strict mandates on nursing homes that receive Medicare and/or Medicaid reimbursements. If passed, this legislation would require these facilities to have one registered nurse on duty at all times.

The bill was recently passed on to the Health Subcommittee for review.

Currently, federal law only requires nursing facilities to have an RN on duty for a minimum of eight hours each day. This requirement fails to take into account the size of the facility or the health conditions of the residents.

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Every patient in a hospital expects good care and proper treatment. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Improper hospital care can result in serious injuries and even loss of life.

In May 2010, a Louisiana woman received serious burns after she underwent a routine procedure that required her to be placed under anesthesia. When she woke up from the procedure, she had several burns on her groin and buttocks. The burns were so severe that she needed skin grafts on the areas that were injured. The Louisiana woman is currently seeking damages for her mistreatment.

Hospitals should always make sure that their patients are safe by taking the proper safety precautions. Nobody should have to suffer from injuries because of poor treatment at a hospital. The injuries like the ones that the Louisiana woman sustained can also result in missed time at work as well as additional medical expenses. Injuries resulting from improper care can also ruin the reputation of a hospital and the businesses that they serve.

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We all want to believe that extra care and respect is shown toward the elderly in our communities, as they are among the most vulnerable of our population. To ensure this, a pilot-program launched in Philadelphia in 2012 has taken steps to guard against people who might be inclined to take advantage of those on social security.

According to an article on Philly.com, the pilot program did background checks on those known as “representative payees” — a person who collects social security disability benefits for those who aren’t able to handle their own finances. If it was found that the representative payee had committed one of 12 crimes, including robbery, forgery, or identity theft, they were rejected as a representative of the individual seeking benefits.

In order to make the determination, the Social Security employees would access public records, or third-party databases. They would not have access to the FBI’s criminal database. The Social Security Administration feels the pilot-program has been a success, as screeners have flagged less than 1 percent of the 34,850 applicants.

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Friendship Ridge, the county-owned nursing home in Beaver County, is eliminating over 100 jobs after a contract was approved last month by employees.

According to an article on BizJournals.com, the positions being cut include registered nurses and restorative nurses. Positions in maintenance, dietary, the hair salon, and recreation specialists will also be cut.

Comprehensive Healthcare Management Services LLC, a company out of Lawrence, NY, is purchasing the facility from Beaver County. The jobs were sacrificed in order to reach a contract with the new owners. The union that represents many of Friendship Ridge’s workers, SEIU Healthcare Pennsylvania, expressed their concern about the loss of jobs. In the article, they are quoted as saying, “While we were pleased to achieve a contract with the new owners that protects family-sustaining jobs, the elimination of so many positions is upsetting and unsettling. We have spent the last year advocating for our residents and working to make sure that they would continue to receive the high quality care and service they have always known.”

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The coroner is investigating the death of a resident that took place on Saturday at the Golden Living Center in Waynesburg, just outside of Pittsburgh. According to an article on TheRepublic.com, the woman’s neck became stuck between the mattress and the bed rail.

The coroner has ruled the death “accidental asphyxiation” according to the article. So far, the nursing home has not responded when asked when staff last checked on the resident. There’s been no response to questions about how often staff check on residents at night. But the home has offered its condolences to the resident’s family.

According to the article, Golden Living was last inspected by the Pennsylvania Health Department on March 1, 2013. In the last 30 months, the home had 16 “minimal harm” deficiencies, which is fewer than the state average.

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Pennsylvania seniors who are 65 or older take note: the state’s Department of Revenue is now accepting applications for the Property Tax/Rent Rebate Program. The program provides a maximum standard rebate of $650 to those who qualify and rebates can go as high as $975.

According to an article on the RepublicanHerald.com, the rebates are on property taxes or rent for the last year. In addition to those 65 and older, qualifying residents also include people 18 or older with disabilities and widows and widowers 50 and older. For homeowners, the income limit is $35,000; for renters, $15,000. Funding for the program comes from lottery proceeds and slot gaming money. Those who are approved for a rebate will begin receiving them July 1.

Forms can be found at the state Department of Revenue offices, as well as local areas on aging and senior centers.

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A recent article on TribLive.com highlights the urgent need for more nursing homes bed as the population in Pennsylvania ages. The reason? There’s simply not enough beds available to accommodate the estimate of seniors who will need them.

In the article, an administrator for Lakeview Personal Care Home in Beaver County explained, “The problem is that the cost is exhorbitant in many communities.” So to try and head off problem, the state has been funding services that will allow more seniors to stay in their own homes longer.

The programs include services such as transportation to appointments for seniors, as well as delivery of meals to homebound seniors. Funding comes from the Pennsylvania Lottery, which $50 million and state budgets, which provide $18 million.