Mikulski fields complaints about hospital Kimbrough downgrading, Social Security discussed

July 23, 1996|By Tanya Jones | Tanya Jones,SUN STAFF

The downgrading of Kimbrough Army Community Hospital to a clinic, the viability of Social Security and Medicare reforms topped the agenda yesterday when U.S. Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski visited the O'Malley Senior Center in Odenton.

While the Maryland Democrat was there to highlight Social Security legislation she has introduced, several senior citizens took the opportunity to complain about the closing of the hospital at the end of May.

Kimbrough no longer has an emergency room or inpatient care, but instead offers an acute minor illness clinic and still has outpatient and pharmacy services.

The change has angered Carrie Klipa, who cares for her disabled husband, a Navy retiree and retired federal government worker, at their home in Odenton.

"We retired in this area because we were hoping they would keep Kimbrough open," said Klipa. While Klipa has purchased secondary insurance, she said many military retirees will be financially strapped if they have to pay even portions of bills for civilian emergency-room care. "I hope the government or somebody can do something to help us all."

But Mikulski said she and local officials, such as County Councilman Bert L. Rice, who attended the event, had done all they could to prevent the complete closure of Kimbrough.

"Your medical needs are not abandoned," she said. "The [military] benefits are there. They are just not there in the way you thought they were going to be."

About 80 people gathered in the center's main room just before lunch to hear Mikulski, in her second term in the Senate and a native of Baltimore. Mikulski quickly turned the discussion to Social Security.

She said legislation she has introduced would allow families of Social Security recipients who die to collect all or part of the person's last check. Under current regulations, the check for the month in which the person dies must be returned.

Under her bill, co-sponsored by Sen. Olympia J. Snowe, a Maine Republican, Social Security would pay a half-month of benefits if the person dies on or before the 15th of the month and a month of benefits if the person dies after the 15th.

In Maryland, 665,800 people receive an average of $720 a month in Social Security payments, according to Mikulski's office.

She also sought to reassure the audience about the stability of the Social Security system.

"There are a lot of rumors out there," Mikulski said. "But I want you to know that Social Security is safe, Social Security is sound, and Social Security is going to be around as long as there's a United States of America."

But John Miara, a Navy retiree and Social Security recipient from Pasadena, was not impressed by Mikulski's assurances.

"I don't believe her," Miara said. "The fund is near bankruptcy, because they are spending the money. There is no reserve being built up."

On Medicare, Mikulski said she supports a measure that would allow the spouse of someone in a nursing home to keep property, some savings and a small income, instead of having to go nearly bankrupt to qualify for the benefit.

Pub Date: 7/23/96

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