SPRINGFIELD—This week, Senator Daniel Biss joined Representative Chris Welch and multiple advocates of long-term care recipients for a press conference announcing crucial legislation addressing the pressing problems of improper discharges and of woefully insufficient facility staffing levels.
Their solution—SB 1624 and HB 3392—would protect the growing number of long-term care residents currently being abandoned in hospital psychiatric units and provide the necessary penalties to enforce legally-required staffing levels, saving lives and greatly enhancing quality of life for long-term care residents.
Multiple speakers stressed that the new legislation simply enforces the staffing levels set in 2010 by leveling penalties against short-staffing facilities equal to the amount of wages they are “saving” by failing to staff at required levels.
“What we now know today is that many nursing homes simply are not following the law, and are threatening the safety of seniors and people with disabilities by understaffing the nursing homes,” said State Senator Daniel Biss. “It’s unacceptable and today – it ends.
“Illinois leads the nation in the improper discharge of long-term care residents – in many instances, abandoning seniors with Alzheimer’s and individuals with disabilities to hospital psychiatric units,” said State Representative Chris Welch.
Licensed practical nurse, Tabetha Oster, gave a caregiver’s perspective of the short staffing that’s prevalent at over a third of Illinois nursing homes, and which contributes to the practice of involuntary discharge. She noted that “it’s not uncommon for CNAs to be responsible for 15 or more residents each and for LPNs to be responsible for 30 or more.” When contrasted with the 3.8 hours of daily direct care per resident mandated by landmark Illinois legislation passed in 2010, she said, the gap is startling. “Illinois nursing homes are shorting residents out of over 9 million hours of care.”
Andrew Kretschmar, Senior Manager for the Alzheimer’s Association Illinois Chapter Network spoke to the role the bill would play for people afflicted with the disease. “For over a year the Alzheimer’s Association has advocated for this legislation because we know this law will stop the unfair treatment of people with Alzheimer’s in Illinois. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of nursing home beds in the state of Illinois decreased by 7%, in that same time the number of complaints of improper discharges leading to hospital abandonment increased 158%. The math just doesn’t add up. Some of these facilities are self-reporting understaffing upwards of 50% – certainly the care of residents in those facilities is suffering. Today we’re doing something about it. If passed, these bills will change the lives of thousands of Illinoisans living with Alzheimer’s residing in long-term care settings.”
Samantha Olds-Frey, Executive Director of the Illinois Association of Medicaid Health Plans discussed the need for the bill at a time of state budget crisis. “Savings will be generated by this policy by decreasing unnecessary and medically inappropriate hospitalizations. Hospitalizations, by the way, that cost roughly seven times the cost of an average nursing home stay.”
Long-Term Care Ombudsman, Jamie Freschi, shared background on the issue of improper discharge. “Eviction/Discharge complaints, including ‘hospital dumps,’ received by the Illinois Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program have more than doubled since 2011 and are by far the number one complaint investigated by Illinois Ombudsmen. Senate Bill 1624 and House Bill 3392 provide long overdue penalties for improper discharges and tighten loop holes that currently allow facilities to circumvent the rules making it far too easy for facilities to abandon vulnerable residents in locations where their needs cannot be met.
Jerry Rabbe, whose mother was discharged without advanced warning from a nursing facility especially designed for patients with Alzheimer’s, spoke to both the personal and financial cost of the practice. “My mother was moved from one home to the next as if she were cattle,” he said. “Over the course of two years, my Mom saw the inside of five assisted living and nursing home facilities, and the inside of the St. Johns Hospital psych-unit. As she was a recipient of Medicaid, I can’t imagine what this cost the State of Illinois.