2002-03-20 / Seniors

Nolan’s Bill Protects Health Care Whistleblowers

By John Toscano

Under a bill expected to be signed into law in Albany, workers in nursing homes and other health care facilities would have more protection from firing and other forms of retaliation by their employers if they report improprieties to officials.

The legislation, commonly called a whistleblower protection bill, has passed both the Assembly and Senate and Governor George Pataki is expected to sign it.

Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D–Ridgewood), the main sponsor of the bill, stated, "I think it is a step forward. It’s going to give people more protection."

The bill would apply to all health care facilities—hospitals and nursing homes and health care operations in schools and correctional facilities. Nurses have been complaining for a long time that current laws discourage them from speaking out about abuses and other harmful behavior because they have no job protection.

The Nolan bill would allow courts to fine a health care facility up to $10,000 if it is found guilty of retaliation against a person who reported a crime or harmful practice. The proceeds would go into a state fund to improve patient care. If a worker who reports something loses a court case, he or she will not have to pay the employer’s legal costs.

Workers are in the best position to bring dangerous or illegal situations to the attention of authorities, advocates say, and the Nolan bill will encourage more of them to become whistleblowers.

HEALTH CENTERS IN SENIOR CENTERS: Congressmember Nydia Velazquez (D), whose district includes part of Ridgewood, has introduced a bill to create health centers in federally funded senior centers located in federal housing developments. The lawmaker said she is seeking $500 million to set up the program and $40 million a year after that to operate it.

"What this will do, in a comprehensive way, is provide health care for seniors," Velazquez said. She also pointed out that the health centers are needed because if seniors do not have easy access to healthcare facilities, they will not seek the care they need. That’s why, Velazquez said, the health care centers should be located in federally sponsored housing developments where seniors live.

"Whether it’s an inquiry about a referral to a specialist or a routine medical appointment, seniors could get the medical care they need close to home," Velazquez said.

WIDOW GETS HELP: When Rae Ellis Theise of Forest Hills lost her husband about a year ago, Congressmember Anthony Weiner reports, she was denied retroactive disability payments which had been due her husband by the Social Security Administration.

"The funds had been held up for some time without any explanation," said Weiner (D–Queens/Brooklyn), who had been contacted by Theise for assistance. Weiner interceded with the SSA and last week the agency sent her a check for $5,000.

"Without the help of Congressman Weiner, I doubt I would have ever seen that money," Theise said gratefully.

NEW WEB SITE: The National Council on the Aging has opened a new Web site that can assist seniors and their families to research the availability of state and federal benefits, according to the Midville Monthly, the bulletin of the Middle Village Adult Center, 69-10 75th St., Middle Village.

The site is www.benefitscheckup.org. Some 36 questions call for such information as age, income and expenditure. The site informs as to what program benefit you may qualify for. The information is presented in easily read large type.

NON-DRIVER ID: Some form of identification, especially with a picture attached, can be very useful. Anyone without a driver’s license or registration who would like a non-driver I.D. card can stop by the district office of Assemblymember Michael Cohen (D–Forest Hills) at 98-08 Metropolitan Ave. on Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. to obtain a non-driver identification card. Department of Motor Vehicles personnel will be on hand.

Anyone planning to start driving can also get a learner’s permit; driver’s licenses can also be renewed. For more information, call Cohen’s office at (718) 263-5595.

MEETING, CONCERT: The Julius Grossman Municipal Orchestra will render a concert of light classical music on Wednesday, April 10 at 1 p.m. when the AARP Jackson Heights Chapter No. 991 meets at the Jewish Center of Jackson Heights, 37-06 77th St., Jackson Heights.


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