Nursing homes, elderly want restored funding to Medicaid

News-DemocratMay 1, 2013 

State cuts to Medicaid mean most elderly residents like 94-year-old Erma Scheurer either no longer receive some medical and dental care, or nursing homes across the state provide the care at the facility's expense.

Scheurer and 50 other residents and staff at Belleville Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center, formerly the Lincoln Home, came together on Wednesday in support of restoring state funding to dental, vision and podiatry care for the elderly. The rally was part of a statewide tour to bring attention to the issue from the Health Care Council of Illinois, an industry association representing more than 500 nursing facilities.

State legislators anticipated saving $1.6 billion through the cuts, but a recent state report now estimates the savings will be about $1.13 billion -- a difference of more than $464 million. The Council is collecting signatures from those supporting restored funding to present to Illinois legislators and Gov. Pat Quinn.

While the rally was for a serious cause, it wasn't all doom and gloom. Nursing home residents and staff bore feather boas, festive hats and tiaras during the Hollywood-themed rally.

Scheurer, a retired nurse from Valmeyer, said she supported efforts to restore funding. When asked whether she minded being included in an article highlighting the issue, she laughingly responded, "Well, it's better than an obituary."

The cuts went into effect last July and have placed nursing homes between conflicting state agendas, according to the Council's Executive Director Pam Comstock. The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services will no longer pay for care medical professionals say is essential, but the state's Department of Public Health requires nursing homes to provide such care otherwise they face penalties.

"Facilities are mandated to deliver care, but the state says it won't pay," Comstock said. "We understand there are budget problems and there must be cuts, but the cuts (enacted) put the facility in the middle."

Comstock said that if funding is not restored, then regulations need to catch up to the effects of the cuts. The cuts affect about two-thirds of nursing home residents statewide, and include only providing emergency dental care, podiatry care only for those with diabetes and only covering one pair of eyeglasses every two years.

While the state does cover emergency tooth removal, it does not cover the cost of dentures. Denying people the ability to eat solid food because the state claims there isn't enough money for dentures is shameful, Comstock said.

Residents previously were able to update their glasses each year, which was important because an elderly person's eye sight can change dramatically, Comstock said.

"That means if your sight changes you can't read the newspaper, can't read a book or make it down the hall," she told the assembled group of nursing home residents. "The state will not pay for you to have new glasses, and that could make it very hard on you."

Kenya Washington, administrator for the Belleville center, said in a statement she sees the devastating impact the lack of funding has on nursing home residents and it's unacceptable.

"If we have a special need, our facility will pick up the cost," Washington said after the rally. "We are all about patient care."

Many more residents without diabetes have medical conditions causing poor circulation and other health issues requiring podiatry care, Washington said.

"Even a small cut to a resident's foot can result in gangrene and lead to amputation," Washington said. "This isn't just a perk for these residents. It's a serious medical necessity."

The push to restore funding has garnered support from the Illinois State Dental Society and Illinois Podiatric Medical Association.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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