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What U. S. Senator Spencer Abraham won't tell you ...

The Senator has introduced U. S. Senate Bill 2999 entitled "Health Care Providers' Bill of Rights." This bill protects nursing home owners' profits instead of nursing home residents. Senator Abraham's bill would put our loved ones in nursing homes at even greater risk than they are in now with the prevalence of abuse and neglect.

If passed, among its other bad provisions this bill would weaken the federal law which imposes prompt penalties when nursing homes fail to meet minimal standards and it would limit the ability of our government to conduct criminal investigations of nursing homes.

One of the worst features of this bill is that when government inspectors document abuse and neglect in nursing homes, they can't release that information to the public or impose any of the penalties permitted under the current federal law until months later if the nursing home appeals. In the meantime, residents' lives may continue to be in danger.

Another provision in this bill makes it harder for our government to investigate and prosecute nursing homes that defraud Medicare and Medicaid.

There's lots more to be concerned about with thsi bill. But what Sen. Abraham will tell you is that he wants to assure adequate payment to nursing homes. As concerned citizens, we support fair funding of nursing homes, but unlike Sen. Abraham we want to make sure that government funds - taxpayers' money - are actually used for better care.

Dear Seniors: It is simply unconscionable to put residents at further risk by preventing the government from doing the job of protecting the health and safety of nursing home residents. That's exactly what Senate Bill 2999 would do.

For more information call MICHIGAN CAMPAIGN FOR QUALITY CARE, a grassroots nonpartisan consumer movement for the significant improvement of nursing home care. Phone: Allison Hirschel at 1-800-288-5923.

Michigan Campaign for Quality Care

Who We Are

The Michigan Campaign for Quality Care is a new statewide consumer-led effort to assure better care, better choices, and better quality of life for Michigan's nursing home residents. The Campaign arose from consumers' dismay and dissatisfaction with their family members' experiences in Michigan nursing homes and from a shared conviction that consumers working together and drawing on their own experiences can make a difference. Participants include residents, their families, and members of non-profit organizations that share the Campaign's goals.

The Campaign will create opportunities for consumers from around the state to share their experiences with nursing home care and to forge from those experiences consumer-oriented changes in the law and regulations governing nursing homes. The Campaign will seek public hearings across Michigan for consumers to raise issues about nursing home care and life and encourage continuing media coverage of consumer concerns about nursing homes.

Our Goals

The Campaign's specific goals include:

  • improving the standards of care in nursing homes.
  • strengthening and increasing the frequency of state monitoring of facilities.
  • creating more effective sanctions for poor care.
  • increasing high quality care choices and competition.
  • providing consumers with opportunities to learn about quality and services at existing facilities.
  • promoting care practices and approaches that improve nursing home residents' daily lives.

The campaign will work to ensure that consumers have meaningful input into the state inspection process and that the state officials responsible for regulating nursing homes respond to and protect consumers instead of nursing homes.

How To Help

The Campaign welcomes and needs the participation of consumers and non-profit organizations that share its goals. For more information please call:

Wayne County Branch: Phyllis Moga 313/386-7784
Oakland County Branch: Lydia Rizzo 348/478-7293
Macomb County Branch: Joanne Barr 810/296-1660
Statewide: Alison Hirschel 1-800-288-5923

Nursing Home Bills Need Revision

Lydia Rizzo and Mike Connors

No doubt Michigan voters will receive glowing reports from their state representatives regarding so-called nursing home reforms they've helped pass. But there is little cause to celebrate.

Just prior to summer recess, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a package of bills that address nursing home concerns. Some of the bills were introduced and passed with unprecedented speed. The bills have now been sent on to the Senate for consideration, which may or may not take action in the fall.

Consideration by the Senate, with possible compromises with the House, must be achieved before the bills can become law, subject also to the Governor's signature.

In one respect, action on nursing home bills is a positive sign, albeit a weak one. Last year both the House and the Senate passed a bill that adds 16 nursing home inspectors across Michigan. Also, the personal needs allowance for Medicaid nursing home patients was doubled from $30 to $60.

Public testimony, federal government studies and a Michigan State University research project have made legislators begin to realize what the rest of us have long known: our loved ones in nursing homes are often routinely neglected. Many nursing homes lack sufficient staff to meet even basic resident needs. Caregiving staff are often poorly trained, underpaid and overworked. Our elder and disabled citizens living in nursing homes often go without care, food, water and respect for their dignity.

Michigan nursing homes violate federal care standards at about double the national average, and complaint investigation processes are often inadequate to protect residents.

Unfortunately, the bills passed by the House this year won't help much. Although some of the bills have positive features, most of them are merely window dressings. Some are seriously flawed. They don't address the most serious problems, have many loopholes, and set inadequate standards. Further, the nursing home industry, which favors most of the bills, has won terms that protect its financial interests at the expense of improved resident care.

While acting on industry-supported bills, the House neglected consumer-friendly measures that were long pending. For example, the House didn't schedule a hearing on a bill that would allow nursing home residents to escrow (withhold) payments if their nursing home violated public standards. The MSU study shows that about 80 percent of Michigan citizens support this proposal. Yet this bill was completely ignored while the House passed several minor bills that were introduced just prior to the legislature's summer recess.

Flawed bills

Michigan Campaign for Quality Care, a grassroots consumer movement to significantly improve nursing home conditions, has analyzed the bills.

Let's take a look at tie-barred HB 4362 and HB 5827 (tie-barred means that both have to be passed or neither can be passed). These nursing home industry friendly bills provide a perfect example of the flaws that permeate throughout the rest of the nursing home bill package. Although the Campaign strongly supports increasing nursing home staffing levels, it opposes these two bills for several reasons:

First, the revised staffing level is inadequate. The bills set a minimum ratio of 1 staffer to 15 residents. This standard, which is the current minimum for night shifts, is dangerously inadequate.

Second, most nursing homes will not be required to add staff because they already surpass the bills' requirement that they provide an average of 3 hours of care-related activities per resident per day, still inadequate.

Third, the bills are extraordinarily generous to nursing home operators and are riddled with loopholes. Nursing homes can demand immediately increased payments from the state, based on a simple notice, to cover the costs of extra staff. Then if the state doesn't increase their rates immediately, nursing homes are exempted from the new staffing standards.

Fourth, the bills don't require the nursing home industry to help finance the costs of increased staff levels. All of the costs come out of taxpayers' pockets.

Fifth, the posting requirements in the bills are severely inadequate. Consumers will not know how many staff members are on duty or be able to determine if the nursing home is meeting its staff requirements.

Sixth, the bills don't contain enforcement provisions. Michigan is currently doing a poor job of enforcing its existing staffing requirements.

Residents still at risk

HB 4727 is also a bill that sounds great until you take a closer look. It requires criminal background checks of health care facility applicants; however, this measure doesn't clearly cover agency pool or temp staff.

Since many facilities rely heavily on pool staff to provide temporary workers, it is imperative that the bill be amended to include them for background checks.

The Michigan Campaign for Quality Care has submitted to each representative and senator an analysis of the passed House Bills to provide concerns from the consumer's point of view. It's hoped that the legislators will revise the bills to address these concerns before enactment into law.

Raising questions

In view of these legislative actions, serious questions need to be asked. Why did the representatives pass such poorly drafted bills? Could it be the upcoming election when incumbents can proudly proclaim that nursing home reform bills have been passed?

Why were consumer-friendly legislative proposals set aside in favor of industry-supported bills? Could it be the influence of political action committee money? The Health Care Association of Michigan, a nursing home industry organization, is a heavy contributor to legislators, especially to the Republicans, who are in the majority in both the state House and Senate.

HCAM has contributed $10,000 to the Republican Party Political Campaign and $3,500 to the Democratic Party Political Campaign during this election cycle. Legislators repeatedly claim they're not influenced by PAC money. Why then would financially shrewd entrepreneurs of the nursing home industry throw away money on fruitless endeavors?

Vote smart

With elections looming, voters should give careful attention to the records and financial supporters of the candidates. (This information is available at www.sos.state.mi.us/election.) Citizens can help improve the quality of nursing home care by demanding that legislators pass strong corrective measures and that when drafting the bills they consult closely with experienced consumer advocates who represent the interests of residents and their families.

It's up to all of us to study the facts from credible sources and make decisions based on which candidates will honestly represent the public's interest regardless of party affiliation.

Mike Connors and Lydia Rizzo are members of Michigan Campaign for Quality Care.

Connors e-mail: connors727@aol.com

Rizzo fax: 248-478-2193.