Friday, February 19, 2010

Nursing home scandal spurs reform plan

By Rachel Wells

Legislators may consider proposals to reform the way long-term care is administered in Illinois, following a report released today from the Illinois Nursing Home Task Force.

Gov. Pat Quinn created the task force in October, after the Chicago Tribune revealed incidents of violence in nursing homes with mixed populations of the elderly and mentally ill younger adults. The task force report includes 38 recommendations for better screening of mentally ill patients, higher treatment standards and expanded options for home and community-based care.

In the report, task force chairman Michael Gelder said a focus on “recovery, therapeutic care, and adequate appropriate housing in the community” will reduce the number of younger residents living alongside the elderly in nursing homes.

“There’s a lot in [the report] that’s really, really good,” said Wendy Meltzer, executive director of the nursing home advocacy group Illinois Citizens for Better Care. She was especially pleased with the recommendation for minimum staffing levels. “The single greatest [guarantee] of nursing home quality is enough educated and trained staff to take care of the residents. If you don’t have that, nothing else matters.”

According to the report, Illinois' minimum staffing levels are lower than those recommended by the federal government and are often lowest in nursing homes with higher minority populations.

While she’s encouraged by the report’s emphasis on transitioning mentally ill patients into more residential and community-based treatment programs, Meltzer said she’d like to see the same amount of emphasis on such programs for the elderly.

The Healthcare Council of Illinois, a nursing home trade group, also applauded the task force’s efforts but said in a news release that the recommendations didn’t quite meet expectations. The group had hoped for more attention to enhanced continuing education, standardizing admission and discharge criteria, stepping up ongoing psychiatric assessments and developing individual plans geared toward independent living.

Both Meltzer and the Healthcare Council said they’ve been working with legislators to draft bills including some of the recommendations. A phone call placed with Gelder was not immediately returned.

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