NJ delegation pushes for more rail safety

“What in God’s name are we waiting for?” asked Rep. Bill Pascrell.

That was the question three members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation put to the Trump administration as they urge the federal government to do what John Tancredi did.

“My wife over the past several years told me she thought I snored a lot and that I stopped breathing in the middle of the night,” said Tancredi.

Late last year, Tancredi followed his wife’s advice. He underwent a sleep study at Holy Name’s Center for Sleep Medicine. It confirmed why he had a hard time waking in the morning, was tired with low energy during the day and would nod off at the wheel sometimes.

“I just had the study done to confirm that I did have it,” he said.

Tancredi does what millions of other sleep apnea sufferers do. He straps on a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) every night to keep his airways open, so he can breathe all night and get restful sleep.

“I have more energy throughout the day now,” said Tancredi.

“Just like high blood pressure and diabetes, it’s not like you’re necessarily going to die from those things, but you have an increased risk of dying,” said Dr. Theophanis Pavlou, internal medicine, Holy Name Medical Center.

Pavlou says he’s diagnosing about twice as many sleep apnea cases now compared to two decades ago. He says it becomes prominent with age and so does denial and the danger to others.

“If you were to ask the people with severe sleep apnea, half of them would swear they don’t have it, even when people come to my office, it’s usually at the request of their family members, they’re snoring loudly, or another doctor is sending them to the office to be evaluated. They don’t know that they have it. They just sort of get by. I see a greater awareness to it, and I think more needs to be done,” said Pavlou. 

As more Americans are dealing with sleep apnea, diagnosed or undiagnosed, it’s putting more people at risk and showing up more often in the headlines.

“The evidence is clear that we’re seeing a pattern of pain of destruction, of injuries and death, as a result of us not doing what we should be doing to hold folks accountable and keep us safe,” said Sen. Cory Booker.

Sens. Cory Booker and Bob Menendez, and Congressman Bill Pascrell say they have bills to require the Trump administration to enforce sleep apnea testing. This week, the NTSB blamed the deadly NJ Transit Hoboken crash on sleep apnea. It recommended, for the fourth time, sleep apnea screening for train engineers and truck drivers. But, the Trump administration has rolled back Obama-era rules for such screening.

“I’m not exaggerating when I say that under the Trump administration, the catch phrase ‘safety first’ is now safety last,'” said Menendez.

The congressional members wrote a letter to the president asking him to act on screening and positive train control to slow down or stop speeding trains, but they wonder when will the administration act or is the White House, per Rep. Pascrell, “Obviously asleep at the switch!”