Metro-East News

Stuart, Greenwood push for nursing home care legislation

How nursing home residents are cared for, and how many people are needed to provide the care, is the subject of legislation being considered in Springfield.

State Rep. Katie Stuart, D-Edwardsville, and State Rep. Latoya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, along with senior advocates spoke in Collinsville about proposed legislation meant to enhance the quality of life of long-term care residents of nursing homes.

Stuart and Greenwood were joined by Andrew Kretschmar, advocacy manager for Alzheimer’s Association, and Jamie Freschi, ombudsman for Illinois Long-Term Care, in order to push for legislation to improve care for nursing home residents.

According to a news release from Stuart and Greenwood’s offices, there was legislation passed in 2010 which required long-term care facilities to meet safe staffing levels proven to improve care and lower morbidity among long-term care residents.

However, more than one-third of ​nursing home facilities across Illinois continue to staff at “dangerously low levels and, making them poorly equipped to handle ​the care needs of ​residents with cognitive impairment, ​causing an​ improper discharge ​of ​residents to hospital psychiatric units​.”

Freschi said there are about 1,000 improper discharges from long-term care facilities.

Proposed legislation would prevent the practice of illegally discharging long-term care residents — and also address short-staffing by enforcing existing staffing level requirements with financial penalties, proponents of the legislation said.

On March 22, the Illinois House and Human Services Committee approved the legislation by a vote of 11 to 1.

Besides addressing penalties for staffing, the legislation, if enacted, would also strengthen patient protections against involuntary discharge, eliminate loopholes in current statutes that allow nursing home residents to be effectively abandoned at hospitals. It requires the state’s long-term care ombudsman to be given notice of any discharge so that they can advocate on behalf of the resident and strengthen enforcement powers against evictions at the Department of Public Health.

Stuart is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

“I think it’s a common sense bill. It puts the health and well-being of some of our most vulnerable neighbors first,” Stuart said. “I’m happy to be working on this bill, working to ensure basic health care needs are met and provided for neighbors with Alzheimer’s and individuals with disabilities and other long-term residents.”

The bill would give long-term care residents a due process before being involuntarily discharged, proponents said.

“For me that’s important to provide that voice for those people that don’t have that voice (for) themselves,” Stuart said.

Greenwood said making sure seniors are protected is a top priority for her and Stuart.

“We must continue to fight for our seniors and those who are the least among us, so they deserve the quality of care they deserve and have earned,” Greenwood said.

Kretschmar said if Illinois nursing homes followed the rules prescribed in the 2010 legislation, they would create 5,463 new jobs in the state. He said improper discharges increased by 153 percent in the five years after the 2010 law was enacted.

An individual with dementia, loses the ability to properly or effectively communicate. They could have a condition, like an infection, a staff member helps with daily activities, because they don’t have the ability to properly communicate, they could act out and have a verbal altercation. The facility could send the patient to a hospital.

“The facility is unchecked on this, they initiate it and they’re the ones who end it by saying they don’t want to welcome back the resident,” Kretschmar said.

The Illinois Health Care Association is opposed to the legislation.

Proponents of the legislation are “wildly” overestimating the needed staffing levels, said Matt Hartman, vice president of the Illinois Health Care Association.

He said proponents of the bill incorrectly looked at needed staffing ratios and how they would be applied and did not take into account patient acuity, and how people could get better while receiving care.

Hartman said the legislation would lead to $370 million in fines and penalties, which represents about a fourth of the state’s Medicaid spending.

“It would close a lot of doors,” Hartman said. “There is no way we could negotiate around something that takes over a fourth of the funding away.”

He said number of complaints do spike, but are cyclical based on what the federal government may be looking at.

Hartman also said the number of complaints dropped in the years prior to the Alzheimer’s Association analysis.

“They cherry pick their data,” Hartman said.

In 2016, there were 188,000 discharges, of which between 1,600 and 1,700 were involuntary. However, less than a third of the the involuntary discharges were contested, Hartman said.

“We don’t think there is a pandemic here,” Hartman said.

He said when dumping takes place, “there should be repercussions.

“We want to hold them to a high standard; we need to make sure it’s done right,” Hartman said.