ARA Leader Says Some in Congress Trying to “Manufacture” Social Security Disability Crisis

Rich Fiesta, the Executive Director of the Alliance for Retired Americans told its New York State chapter at its biannual meeting on Wednesday that the House and Senate GOP leadership has changed rules in their chambers that will make it harder to avert a funding crisis for the Social Security disability fund.  Fiesta said that the new Congress is again trying to push reforms in Social Security and Medicare that will hurt beneficiaries.  He said that the Social Security retirement and survivors fund is solvent through 2037 but the disability fund which is also part of Social Security may run out of money by the end of 2016.

Fiesta said it is clear the GOP leaders are trying to “manufacture a crisis” so that they can seek concessions on overall entitlement spending.   The ARA says that new House and Senate rules “establish a point of order prohibiting reallocation from the Old Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) trust fund to the Disability Insurance (DI) trust fund within the Social Security program. This procedural change to the House rules is unprecedented. It will have the effect of holding the DI trust fund hostage, and is a direct attack on seniors, disabled Americans and the Social Security trust fund.”  Fiesta noted that the Treasury Department has transferred between those funds numerous times in the past.

This sounds like a losing strategy for those who dislike Social Security and hopefully it will backfire just as efforts to shut down the federal government backfired on opponents who demanded major changes in the Affordable Care Act and risked a national default as well.

Fiesta said the Alliance for Retired Americans wants to lift the cap on Social Security earnings which is currently $118,500 per year.  Doing so would enable Social Security to actually provide an $800 a year increase in benefits for those receiving the lowest benefits and would extend solvency of Social Security trust funds.

Advocates for increasing the minimum wage also note that raising the minimum wage to its 1968 equivalent value would add $35 billion in wages that would be subject to the Social Security and Medicare taxes.

For more information on how lifting the earnings cap helps the trust funds, here is a link

Click to access High-Earners-Should-Contribute-Fair-Share-to-Social-Security_Policy-Options_FINAL.pdf

Hundreds of Seniors, Union Members Lobby for Safe Staffing in Health Care

Several hundred seniors, nurse leaders and union activists came to Albany Tuesday for a lobby day to push for the “Safe Staffing for Quality of Care Act” sponsored by Assembly Health Chair Richard Gottfried and his counterpart Senator Kemp Hannon.  (A1548/S782).  Gottfried addressed the gathering at the Convention Center of the Empire State Plaza and said while it is an uphill fight, “safe staffing is kind of basic.”

The advocates argued that better health outcomes result when staffing is sufficient to provide quality care and said “the number of patients assigned to a nurse has a direct impact on the ability to appropriately assess, monitor, care for and safely discharge patients.”  The Gottfried/Hannon bill requires nurse to patient ratios in hospitals.  The ratios would take into account changes in patient acuity and required that nurses have competency.  In long term care facilities, the staffing requirements are base on a minimum number of care hours per resident.

The lobby day was jointly sponsored by New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), Communications Workers of America (CWA), New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA), Public Employees Federation (PEF) and New York StateWide Senior Action Council which represents patients and consumers.  Leaders of all the organizations addressed the group in the Convention Center.

While hospitals oppose the bill’s strict ratios, the reality is that health care transformation is increasinglly being tied to outcomes such as reducing hospital readmissions.  This focus on patient outcomes and improved quality of care will require a more intensive patient centered approach by hospitals and adequate staffing will be necessary.   The failure to improve outcomes will reduce reimbursements for hospitals.

Cuomo Wants Raise for Fast Food Workers; Give Caregivers a Raise too

Governor Cuomo is seeking an end run around the Legislature since they haven’t approved a hike in the minimum wage.  He is convening a wage board  to review whether fast food workers are getting a fair wage.

There also needs to be a whole look at the wage scales for those who are providing care for seniors, disabled and children.  Many are not making a livable wage and most are below $15/hour which is the minimum wage being sought by labor advocates.  Just like those in the fast food industry and other low paying private sector employees who must rely on public assistance of some sort the same can be said of those who are taking care of our most vulnerable family members.

Here is a report on wages in the home care sector

Click to access Giving-Caregivers-A-Raise.pdf

Skelos Likely to be Replaced Next Week

More Republican senators are refusing to support Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos as he tries to stay in power.  In fact, the consensus among many in the media is that Skelos will follow the fate of Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver after lawmakers return to Albany from a weekend at home listening to constituents.  There will also be more motions by the Democrats to have a leadership vote and even Republican freshman Robert Ortt says he will introduce a motion as well.  One report says that Senate Finance Chair John DeFrancisco of Syracuse is making calls to line up support to be elected Majority Leader.  Senator John Flanagan and Senator Catherine Young have also been mentioned.  The Long Island delegation will want Flanagan to replace Skelos but there are more members upstate and DeFrancisco may be the frontrunner.

Gottfried Says Assembly Will Vote on New York Health Act; Paid Family Leave Lobby Day Today

On Tuesday, Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard Gottfried told  advocates for his single payer New York Health Act (A5062/S3525) that the Assembly will bring the bill to the floor for a vote.  Over 200 enthusiastic advocates were addressed by Gottfried and later held a rally in the park behind the Capitol before going on to lobby visits.  According to Professor Gerald Friedman, Chair of the UMass Amherst Economics Department, NY Health would reduce health care spending by 25% or more than $70 billion in 2019 .  He says overhead and profit would be cut and save 9.1%, drug and device pricing cut 5.7%,  doctor and hospital billing costs by 7.2%.

Meanwhile New York Health would expand coverage to the uninsured by eliminating copays and deductibles and the net savings overall would then be 15%.  New York Health would replace the current multi-payer system of employer based insurance, individually acquired insurance and federal programs, such as Medicare and Medicaid with a single payer system funded by progressively graduated tax assessments.  The State Senate bill sponsored by Senator Bill Perkins is not moving in that house and won’t without a change in leadership there.

The advocates were an interesting mix of labor, public interest and health advocates including many younger activists with Physicians for a National Health Plan.  A large part of the group were those who have spent a lifetime fighting for the universal health care.

Another lobby day today is organized by the Paid Family Leave Coalition.  A press conference will be held at 11:30 in the Legislative Office Building press room.   The Assembly has passed this bill and the focus now is on the Senate.  Senator Jeff Klein, leader of the Independent Democratic Caucus is making this issue a priority during the remainder of the session. However, the Senate is in an uncertain state following the charges brought against Majority Leader Dean Skelos.

State Office for Aging Releases Application to Run Regional Ombuds Programs

On April 29, the New York State Office for the Aging released a request for applications to run the Long Term Ombuds Program (LTCOP) in fourteen regions of the state.  The regional approach is a new effort by the state office to provide greater funding for local program operators.  An additional $500,000 was approved in the new state budget for the LTCOP because of funding concerns raised by local program operators.

In announcing the bidding opportunity NYSOFA identified the fourteen regions and gave an overview of the impact of the program.  There are 906 certified volunteers who provided 115,000 volunteer hours.  The program is responsible for trying to resolve complaints and problems in 1519 long term care facilities in the state.  There are 114,978 nursing home residents, 44,833 in other facilties including assisted living, adult homes and family type homes.

The program volunteers received 2215 complaints and resolved 77% successfully.  There were also 49,349 requests for information and assistance from residents, families and caregivers.  Long term care facilities made 4,696 requests for consultation.

When I was Director of the New York State Office for the Aging, I saw this program as a key responsibility of state government and local program operators to assure that the most vulnerable of our older citizens are treated properly and with dignity.  There is a constant need to monitor and oversee complaints and concerns in long term care facilities, especially now with so many changes including county governments trying to privatize or spin off county homes they have run for years.   Short staffing in facilities is another key concern with budgetary pressures and the move toward managed long term care programs paying for Medicaid recipients.  During my tenure at NYSOFA, some nursing homes went into bankruptcy and local ombuds programs were appointed by the bankruptcy courts to represent the residents.

My wife and I utilized the services of the local ombuds program director and a skilled volunteer to help my wife’s aunt.  We had questions about why she was losing weight and whether she had been checked for a urinary tract infection.  The ombuds program helped arrange a family meeting with the staff for us.  They also helped to straighten out problems with bills sent by the outsourced pharmacy.  The ombuds program helped intervene and we learned that the pharmacy had not sent for several months the prescriptions to EPIC and Medicare Part D for my wife’s aunt.  All her charges were reviewed and credits were applied to her bills.

I urge persons who are interested in being an ombudsperson to contact the NYSOFA or local program operators.  It is another example of how “social capital” is needed to make sure that we provide the best care for older New Yorkers and we should always honor those who are doing this volunteer work.

Mike Burgess

Here is the link to the application and information

Grassroots Senior Movement Creating Hundreds of Self-Help “Villages” Across Country Including New York

The grassroots “Village Movement” which began in 2001 with the creation of Beacon Hill Village in Boston has spread across the country and now totals 165 villages that are open and another 160 communities in the development phase.  There are fourteen villages in New York State and another twelve in development including Albany, Ancram, Bronxville, Brooklyn, Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Ithaca, Mamoroneck, Millerton, New York City, Pleasant Valley, Rhinebeck, Rye, Scarsdale, Sleepy Hollow, Somers, White Plains, and Yonkers. This overview was presented by Natalie Galucia, the Executive Director of the Village to Village Network, based in St. Louis, who came to Albany and spoke at a forum attended by nearly one hundred persons in the Albany area on Thursday sponsored by the Albany Guardian Society.

The villages are self help projects which have arisen from seniors’ desire to “age in the community” and to work together to provide services  such as transportation, social events, wellness classes, caregiver supports, respite and health and medical advocacy.  The villages are usually formed as nonprofits which have small paid staff and a large complement of volunteers.

NORCs, or naturally occurring retirement communities, which began in New York State, were a forerunner to the village concept.  NORCs are defined in state law and many receive funding from the New York State Office for the Aging.  They began in high rises in New York City where residents aged in place and then were expanded to included “neighborhood NORCs” for residents living in their own homes where large numbers of persons aged in place.

The Albany Guardian Society is continuing to facilitate a committee that will meet in the Albany area to further study and consider developing villages in the Albany area.  Senior Services of Albany Director Monica Boeckman reported at the meeting on Livingston Village which is being developed as a village in a senior apartment complex in an old public school.  Ed Neary described the efforts in the village of Colonie to promote independence and aging in the community.

I attended the forum yesterday and it was especially uplifting to hear of the progress of the village movement and the activity locally and across the state.   Promoting this concept and “livable communities” in New York State was a key initiative that  I and the staff at the State Office for the Aging promoted when I was Director of the agency and now I want to work to keep promoting here in the Capital District and beyond.  The State Office joined with the Albany Guardian Society, Leading Age and other organizations to sponsor the first Empowering Communities for Successful Aging conference in Saratoga Springs in 2009 that attracted over 500 persons.

It was inspiring to hear Nina Lynch, one of the leaders and now President of the Rhinebeck at Home village that has started and grown  in the last few years.  She said the Livable Communities concept is incorporated into the work and philosophy of Rhinebeck at Home.  She served for nineteen years as an Aging Information Services Specialist at the Dutchess County Office for the Aging.  She has retired and now gone on  to be active in the village effort and other communities activities.  People like Nina are leading this village movement at the grassroots level and she is great example of the voluntarism and “social capital” that is making a difference in helping herself and her peers to living independently and support each other.

Mike Burgess

Caring Across Generations Building Campaign to Put Caregiving Issues on Public Agenda

Caring Across Generations, a coalition that began supporting home care workers, has expanded its focus and launched a national campaign to put issues related to caring for older and disabled persons on  national and state public policy agendas. Caring Across Generations was formed in 2011 by activists with the Domestic Workers Alliance and Jobs with Justice.  The coalition has 200 national organizations as members and 17 field partners along with 150,000 on its online supporters.  The organization is led by Ai-Jenn Poo who is on a national tour promoting her book The Age of Dignity which describes the issues related to the growing number of older persons and offers a platform for action.  She says in her book that there is  “a caregiver majority” in this country that needs to identify itself, build its power and promote policies that respect the dignity of older persons.   She says that a culture change is needed to shift how the country views caregiving.

The coalition held a national conference call on Tuesday night and also stressed that the campaign seeks to bridge the potential polarization in society of a growing older white population and a growing younger population of many races and ethnicities.  On the call, staffpersons said the coalition’s  goals are

– to create a better long term care system

– to develop a new approach to caregiving that respects workers and adds more caregiving jobs

– to promote policies that allow every person to have a choice of how they will age well

The New York StateWide Senior Action Council have been supportive of these goals and is exploring an alliance with the Caring Across Generations.   This blog and website were formed also in alliance with the national coalition.  Here in New York, we will be working in the coming months to bring together the labor and worker activists in the caregiver field with senior activists and those in the aging network who support informal caregiving by families and friends.  The campaign to enact paid family leave in New York State is currently becoming part of the effort to promote this key issue to support patients, families and caregivers and is providing an avenue to build the power of the caregiver majority.

The next national conference call will be at 8:00 p.m. on June 9th.  You can contact the national field director Lisa Adler at to inquire about that call.  To read more about the coalition go to

Hospitals, Doctors Inviting Patients to Open Online Accounts to Review Health Records, Manage their Care

Getting access to your own medical records has been sometimes problematic in the past.  In fact, the New York State Office of Professional Medical Conduct in the Department of Health takes complaints from patients denied access to their records.  There are specific rules regarding the governing of the records in terms of how long they need to be kept and, also what information such as physician notes, etc which don’t have to be included.  For more information, click this link

Now, with all the transformations in health care and the effort to require electronic medical records, hospitals and medical groups have begun inviting patients to establish online accounts through a patient “portal” that allows the user to establish a username and password and then set up an account.  The patient can access their list of appointments, medications prescribed and test results.  They can even enter their own notes on their health care.  Albany Medical Center has set up a patient portal at   Parents can also track the health care of their children up to a certain age.  Make sure to check the rules that different facilities have on this and how a health care proxy can access their records.  A separate application form is used for that.  Usually, the provider with send an email invitation to a patient who requests access and then they are sent a link to register.

This website is really being set up as not just a news source but a network for advocates, so please leave comments about whether your doctors or hospitals are setting up similar patient portals and identify any issues or concerns.

Here is some other news this morning….

An assisted living facility with 60 units being built by a church in Baltimore was destroyed by fire in rioting last night.

If you like the New York Times, but can’t read it every day, you might want to make a point of getting the Tuesday paper which has the special Science section.  Every week there are stories regarding health care and often on aging issues. Today there is a story from the The New Old Age column by Paula Span on how nursing homes are trying not to disorient residents by sending them overnight to hospitals if their special needs can be handled in the nursing home or they can be sent to an outpatient faciity.

And, there is an interview with Henry Rayhons, the  husband  and former Iowa state legislator acquitted last week of charges he had sexually abused his wife who had Alzheimers.  The nursing home said they determined his wife was not capable of consenting to sex.  This story got national attention and raises a lot of ethical issues.   Regardless of all the details and circumstances, you have to wonder how the health care facility let this situation get to the point of putting the man on trial.  Perhaps they tried to resolve it in other ways, but it should have been.

Calendar of Upcoming Advocacy and Education Events

April 30 Albany Guardian Society sponsors the Village Movement:  Current Efforts in the Capital District, Carondolet Hospitality Center, Latham

May 5 Lobby Day to support Single payer “Medicare for All” health legislation A5062/S3525, Empire State Plaza, Meeting Rooms 2,3  Albany,

May 5 New York State Office for the Aging  Annual Senior Citizens Day and awards

May 6 Paid Family Leave Lobby Day, Room 711 Legislative Office Building, Albany

May 7 Annual Community Elder Law Forum, sponsored by Pierro Law Firm, Century House, Latham,

May 12 New York StateWide Senior Action Council Lobby Day, Empire State Plaza Concourse, Albany

May 13  New York State Alliance for Retired Americans annual meeting, NYS United Teachers, Latham

May 14 Mercy Care for the Adirondacks Annual Education Forum, Paul Smith’s College

May 28 White House Conference on Aging regional forum Boston

June 1,2 Assisted Living Federation of America (ALFA) lobby days at Capitol in Albany

June  9, 10  Aging Concerns United Us annual conference, Desmond Americana Hotel, Albany

Paid Family Leave Campaign to Have April 30 Statewide Teleconference with Perez, Gillibrand

The campaign to enact Paid Family Leave in New York State gets a boost on April 30 from national leaders at an event that will shown across the state.  National Paid Family leave champions, U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand will be teleconferenced at each location to send a strong message to Albany that New York should be the next state to enact Paid Family Leave.

New York needs to pass Paid Family Leave so that workers are no longer forced to choose between economic security and caring for our families. We must #MakeNYNext!  Currenlty, New Jersey, California and Rhode Island have enacted Paid Family leave.

Please help spread the word.  Here are the locations around the state at SEIU offices where you can view the event.  For more information, contact Eric Williams at

Make NY Next: Locations

April 30th, 2015 @ 9:30AM

Albany @ 155 Washington Avenue/Albany NY 12210

Buffalo @ 2421 Main Street, Suite 100/Buffalo, NY 14214

Gouverneur @ 95 East Main Street/Gouverneur, NY 13642

Hicksville @ 100 Duffy Ave/Hicksville, NY 11801

Rochester @ 259 Monroe Ave., Suite 220/Rochester, NY 14607

Syracuse @ 250 S. Clinton Street Ste. 200/Syracuse, NY 13203

NYC @330 W. 42nd St, NY, NY