By Justin Strawser
In his first official stop in eastern Northumberland County, U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta (R-11) toured LIFE Geisinger to determine how he can help the nursing home replacement facility should he be re-elected to the House in November.
"It's very important for me to see what this facility is about and how it can fit the needs of our elderly. In their life situation, many times they want to still stay home and don't want to go to a nursing home. I can see where this fits in and fills that gap in allowing seniors to stay at home and still have care," he said Friday afternoon at the borough facility.
Starting in 2013, the 11th Congressional District will encompass most of Northumberland County, from Sunbury east and south. The entire county is currently in the 10th district, and the portion from the Borough of Northumberland north will remain there. The redrawn 11th includes all or part of eight other counties - Carbon, Columbia, Cumberland, Dauphin, Luzerne, Montour, Perry and Wyoming.
If Barletta is victorious in the general election, he will have jurisdiction over the 11th District.
The former Hazleton mayor said he has experienced the life-changing situations of elderly parents needing care and is currently going through the same thing with his wife's parents.
"In that stage of their lives, a facility like this would be very helpful and meaningful," he said.
LIFE (Living Independently For Elders) Geisinger is a daytime program for older adults and an alternative to nursing homes, said Marc A. Varano, outreach coordinator.
"A lot of us think of this as a nursing home without walls, meaning they can go home at the end of the day rather than staying in the facility," he said.
The 4-year-old non-profit program, a division of Geisinger Health System, was granted $500,000 from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Service in 2007 and was used to start up, renovate and expand the 10,000 square feet of space at Roosevelt Court.
It is designed as a program to provide comprehensive health care services that meet the elderly people's medical, social and emotional needs. The goal is to help them reside in their homes, independently, for as long and as safely as possible.
It serves residents in Northumberland, Montour, Columbia and Schuylkill counties, and is the second facility of its kind. The first one opened in 2006 near Scranton.
Varano said there are a total of 80 people ages 55 and older who participate in the program, which has a staff of 50 employees. Funding issues
"It's important to come and see it, and experience it personally rather than have someone tell you about a program. There's nothing more beneficial," Barletta said.
The congressman has been a supporter of repealing President Barack Obama's health care initiative, which may have a negative effect on LIFE Geisinger.
Varano explained, "These programs are funding through Medicare and through the state through medical assistance programs. If they are cut, it will definitely affect the funding for LIFE programs in Pennsylvania, and ultimately nationally."
To pay for "ObamaCare," Barletta said, $500 billion will be taken from Medicare.
"These facilities will be affected. People want affordable health care. When we make health care affordable, it will be accessible," he said.
Barletta, if re-elected, is looking forward to being this area's representative.
"I grew up in Hazleton. It's much the same here as where we are. This could be Hazleton area. I think our backgrounds, the way we grew up and the times are much the same. My own life experience fits very well here. I think there will be a good chemistry between the folks here and myself," he said.
During his tour, Barletta also discussed his stance on several hot topics in the political realm, including contraceptive mandates proposed for all employers.
Barletta said he supported Catholic leaders in speaking out against the Obama administration's decision to force religious employers to provide health coverage that includes contraception.
Although Obama offered a compromise, he criticized the president.
"The president retreated due to the political pressure and backlash, not because he thought what the federal government was doing was wrong," he said.
He made "a bad decision worse" by mandating free birth control, Barletta said.
"Why not give mammograms away for free? Why not colonoscopies? Should the federal government tell a private enterprise what they should provide for free?" he said. "This is the heavy hand of the federal government, a very slippery slope that I believe our country is going into."
Barletta also discussed the effects of the Flood of 2011 and what the federal government can and should do to help victims.
A bill he introduced, the Disaster Loan Fairness Act of 2011 (HR 2042), could offer help to local residents and business owners who were affected by the flood, Barletta said.
The bill would lower the interest rate of all federal disaster relief loans to 1 percent for 30 years and be retroactive to January 2011.
"In the time when people needed help, all the federal government had to offer was a 6 percent loan. How many businesses just said they wouldn't do it? They just took the flood insurance money. What my bill will do is change the way the country deals with disaster," Barletta said.
He argued that this country gave Pakistan $215 million for flood disaster relief for no interest and no payback, and also gave $4 billion to other countries for disaster.
"Not that I'm not proud that our country does that, cause I am, but I think we should help Americans first. I don't think we're doing that," he said.
An expert at the bill hearing disagreed, saying the residents and business owners should have more insurance or move, Barletta said.
"Should we tell them to move to Pakistan, where they'll get a zero percent loan? When I say Washington is dysfunctional, these are the comments I hear that don't resonate with me," he said.
The cost of the bill would be offset by taking money from foreign disaster aide, he said.