Protect nursing home residents

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has begun using stars to rate nursing homes. The lowest rating is one star. It indicates a facility is below average in terms of health inspections, staffing and quality care.

Louisiana has the nation’s highest percentage of nursing homes with one-star ratings.

The federal measurement for nursing-home staffing reports the number of hours of nursing and other staff dedicated per patient each day. The measurement for quality looks at 10 areas, including the percent of patients with bed sores after their first 90 days in the nursing home and the number of residents whose mobility worsened after admission.

The rating system is a step forward. We agree with the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform, however, that it should be more stringent.

Instead of strengthening laws, Louisiana has tended to go in the opposite direction.

In 2001, pushed by the powerful nursing-home lobby, a House committee approved a bill to make it harder for patients and their families to win lawsuits against nursing homes. It was designed to please lobbyists by severely restricting the use of official state reports of bad nursing-home practices as evidence in civil lawsuits.

Opponents called the bill a payoff to a nursing-home industry generous in supporting legislative political campaigns.

In 2005, state inspection records showed that at least 21 residents of a Lafayette nursing home had suffered actual harm since the beginning of state inspections in 1999. There had been 10 citations for serious violation causing harm to residents. Among them was a case of inadequate monitoring of medications, and one of ignoring manufacturer’s instructions on using a restraining device – in which a patient was strangled.

The new federal ratings show that Louisiana has a long way to go in assuring that nursing-home residents are well cared for, safe and comfortable.

How do we accomplish this? A start would be to study those states that have steered government-subsidized seniors away from nursing homes to less costly, long-term care at home or in their communities – using federal waivers.

In the meantime, the state should heed the call by the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform for a more stringent monitoring system.

Most nursing-home residents are highly vulnerable. The state has done too little to ensure their protection.

– The Daily Advertiser, Lafayette