As we have discussed previously in this space, state and federal governments are active in monitoring nursing homes for neglect and abuse, and promulgate rules and regulations that facilities must abide by in order to keep their doors open, as well as to reap any funding through programs like Medicare and Medicaid, for example. While we focus much on Medicare and Medicaid, as well as Illinois’s own Nursing Home Care Act and efforts of the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) to gather data on nursing homes and hand down penalties for violations where appropriate, the United States Congress also can play a role. A 2010 law called the Elder Justice Act, which was a subpart of the overall Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (aka “Obamacare” as used commonly), was enacted to help protect the elderly, including those in nursing homes.
Understanding the Law
The Elder Justice Act gives federal funding and resources to deal with the neglect, abuse, and exploitation of elderly people across the country. Its mission is prevention and reform. The law principally required the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to create an Elder Justice Coordinating Council as well as an Advisory Board on Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation. The purpose of the Council is to make recommendations within Health and Human Services to help coordinate the department’s work along with the Department of Justice and other federal, state, and local agencies in order to gather information on elder abuse and combat this endemic problem.
The Council must also periodically report to Congress on its activities and accomplishments, as well as issues that it must still deal with and try to fix. The Advisory Board similarly advises the Council and makes recommendations as to how it should operate and what its strategic plans should be both in the near and long terms. The Act empowers the agency, Council and Board to work to incentivize elder care training for staff of nursing homes, and to help these facilities in whatever ways it can to improve care and reduce errors, while maintaining a level of reporting on facilities where abuse and criminal acts are committed. The Act also provides federal dollars through grants and other means to state and local adult protective services to investigate and prosecute incidents of elder abuse.
There has recently been a call for the Obama Administration and Congress to step up funding for this law, which to many people has been lackluster in its duties in large part because of lack of funding. Millions of elderly people across the country are abused each year, and billions are spent in medical care (although the money is of course entirely secondary to the actual horrible abuse and trauma suffered). The Administration proposed approximately $25 million of funding for the Elder Justice Act in its budget to go toward the enumerated activities to help improve data collection and to help develop better methods of discovering and preventing abuse of the elderly. A Senate subcommittee that deals with expenditures, however, cut that proposed amount down to about $15 million, making it even more lackluster. In early July the DOJ and HHS released an Elder Justice Roadmap Report to show what initiatives must be taken to help stop elder abuse and neglect.
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