By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn signed a nursing home reform package today aimed at keeping mentally ill and violent offenders out of the general population in long-term care facilities.
“Because all of [us] recognize that one day it could be us. Today, it could be our parents or our grandparents who are living in a nursing home. And we don’t want them in a situation where they are not getting the care they need. And we don’t want them in a situation where they are potentially being harmed by criminals,” Attorney General Lisa Madigan said at a Chicago news conference.
The legislation was prompted after the Chicago Tribune reported on violent incidents that occurred when younger mentally ill patients were housed with elderly patients.
Under Senate Bill 326, potential residents will undergo screening and background checks. Mentally ill patients could only be accepted to nursing homes specifically certified for handling such patients. The bill sets specific staff-to-patient ratios, and nursing homes will also face greater reporting standards and regulation.
The legislation also created work groups of state agencies and other stakeholders, which have started to meet to study implementation strategies and possible expansion and funding of residential and community-based care options.
“Too often in our states and in other states, when a senior goes into a nursing home, that’s the end of it. But in fact, many people are able to come out of nursing homes — when they are stronger, when they are better, when they are physically more fit — and under this new bill , there will be an opportunity to assess whether somebody in a nursing home needs to stay there or can move into either an individual or a communal setting. To me this is one of the most important aspects of the bill,” said Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat and one of the bill’s sponsors
Health care and senior citizen advocates praised the measure but warned that it is not a cure-all. “More work does need to be done.The racial disparity issues prevalent in many Chicago nursing homes need to be addressed. And we also need to ensure that community based options are available for both residents and potential residents in nursing homes,” said David Vinkler, associate state director for AARP of Illinois.
“We’re going to celebrate today. but this fight is not over. … We have to fix the way nursing homes are funded in this state. It is the funding that produces low wages, that produces low staffing, that produces horrendous care,” said April Verrett, executive vice president of Service Employees International Union Healthcare for Illinois and Indiana.