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The Origins of the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Social Security Amendments into law. This legislation in part established the Medicare and Medicaid programs to help the elderly and poor with medical care. This was the first set of significant laws in this area. As to nursing homes, however, the significant foundational law wouldn’t occur for another 22 years, when in 1987 President Ronald Reagan signed the Nursing Home Reform Act into law. Showing the importance of caring for the elderly and infirmed, this bill was a bipartisan effort (which these days seems a rarity). In the years prior, Congress requested that the Institute of Medicine (IOM) examine the quality of care at nursing homes around the country. This proved to be a vital step as the elderly population was set to grow over the coming years and would require more and more of this type of care (the increase continues today).

The IOM issued a report on the first day of 1986 titled “Improving the Quality of Care in Nursing Homes.” The study determined that nursing home residents were abused and neglected, and that many received a substandard level of care. The report also included a whole host of recommended reforms to improve the quality of life for residents. It called for the implementation of a regulatory and enforcement structure by the government to ensure that facilities improve their practices and that they are held to a certain standard. The 1987 Reform Act identified a series of residents’ rights to be adhered to, along with a survey and certification process. It created a structure of federal oversight and laid the foundation for further oversight in tandem with appropriate state authorities.

Many Advocates for Senior Care

The United States Congress and Institute of Medicine are not the only bodies and agencies responsible for the necessary reforms that created minimum standards for residents’ quality of care. Outside groups that focus on such matters played a vital role as well. The Consumer Voice, for example, was a tremendous advocate on behalf of nursing home patients for better care and stronger rights. After the IOM report was released, Consumer Voice started the Campaign for Quality Care, which brought together various organizations from around the country into a coalition of nursing home consumers, health care providers, and others involved in nursing home advocacy. This coalition came up with its own recommendations based on the report, and presented them to Congress and testified at congressional hearings. By 1987, Congress had passed the reforms into law. This not only showed the importance of government in this process, but of outside groups as well.

Today, there continue to be watchdog groups and consumer groups keeping their eyes on the nursing home industry as well as the federal and state agencies responsible for regulation and enforcement. Their vigilance and input into further reforms are vital to the well-being of nursing home residents across the country, and the 1987 Nursing Home Reform Act stands as a historical testament to that commitment.

See Related Blog Posts:

A Nursing Home Resident Bill of Rights

Protection for Nursing Home Employees and Whistleblowers who Stand Up for the Elderly