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Nursing Home Advocates Fighting for Better Illinois Nursing Home Care Standards

The State-Journal Register published a comprehensive story this week that sheds light on a brewing legislative battle to improve standards at long-term care facilities and hopefully stamp out Illinois nursing home neglect and abuse. The political conflict stems from enforcement of the state’s nursing home reform law that passed in 2010. The centerpiece of the law was increases in direct-care staffing requirements. As Wendy Meltzer, executive director of the important senior care advocacy group Illinois Citizens for Better Care, explained, “The rest of the law is nothing without the staffing.”

This is a point with which our Illinois nursing home attorneys fully agree. Properly trained, consistent staffing and care provided directly to each resident is the hallmark of appropriate nursing home support. Changes that don’t address that issue simply will not fix most of the problems facing these homes which cause injury to residents each and every day. To address this reality, some lawmakers are proposing more rule changes to ensure appropriate staffing levels.

Predictably, some are trying to thwart the legislation by claiming that the facilities cannot afford to hire more nurses. However, there is a difference between not being able to hire more nursing staff members to provide proper treatment and not wanting to cut into profit margins. It is not acceptable to place resident lives at risk in order to make more money. If complying with reasonable safety standards requires that less money flow into the pockets of corporate nursing home operators, so be it. Besides, nursing homes should not have trouble ensuring that nursing home staffing levels are at reasonable levels. A new “bed tax” passed by the General Assembly last year will likely collect an additional $105 million in Medicaid matching fund-more than enough to put into place proper staffing levels.

The fact remains that studies have consistently shown that increased registered nursing levels are essential to improving care. One of the bill’s chief sponsors summarized by noting that “When you don’t have registered nurses, you have urinary tract infections, bed sores, more hospitalizations, and even death occurring in some nursing homes.” This perspective has been verified in the work done on behalf of those hurt at these facilities by each Chicago elder abuse attorney at our firm.

Specifically, current law requires 2.5 hours of “nursing and personal care” per resident per day. The new law would bump that figure up to 3.8 hours. Right now 20% of the care must be provided by any form of “licensed nurse” –and RN or an LPN. Proposed rule changes would ensure that at least 20% of that care be provided by a “registered nurse.”

Those supporting the bill explain that many homes already meet the requirements. The purpose of the measure is therefore mostly to ensure that the “bad apples” of the group are forced to make changes. As most nursing home lawyers know, many instances of chronic neglect are concentrated at the worst facilities in the state. All rule changes that might force them to increase the level of care that they provide is a good thing.

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