State legislators want a hearing on nursing home staffing in Kentucky, following a series of stories in the Lexington Herald-Leader that showed how some residents have died as a result of neglect. “A Republican leader of the key committee on health care said she is getting letters from dozens of concerned nursing home residents in her district, urging her to support minimum staffing standards for the facilities,” the newspaper reports.
“It sounds to me like a public discussion is due on this sooner rather than later,” state Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, told reporter John Cheves, who wrote the series. Adams is co-chair of the legislature’s Interim Joint Committee on Health and Welfare and Family Services.
“The committee is scheduled to meet Oct. 17, Nov. 27 and Dec. 12,” Cheves notes. “An identical bill was ignored during the 2018 legislative session last winter, despite the sponsor, state Rep. Rick Nelson, D-Middlesboro, repeatedly calling for a committee hearing at that time.” Nelson is also leaving the legislature.
“Meanwhile, Adams said, she plans to meet in coming weeks with her unhappy constituents in their nursing homes to learn more about the risks of having too few nurses and nurse’s aides on duty to care for residents,” Cheves reports, quoting her: “I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes, but there does seem to be some sort of initiative emerging here from the residents. This is clearly an important issue to them.”
About 34,000 Kentuckians live in long-term-care facilities, 12,500 in nursing homes, the Herald-Leader reports.
Another health committee member, Sen. Reginald Thomas, D-Lexington, told Cheves that a hearing is needed. “We have some of the worst nursing-home ratings in the country here in Kentucky,” he said. “We need to have standards for how many employees are on duty taking care of residents. The only time we talk about nursing homes in Frankfort, it’s for tort reform, to stop the so-called frivolous lawsuits after someone gets hurt. Maybe we should stop people from getting hurt.”
The Herald-Leader series reported that 43 percent of Kentucky’s 284 nursing homes were rated as “below average” or “much below average” this year by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. “That’s among the worst collective ratings for nursing homes in the country,” Cheves reports.
In a column, the Herald-Leader’s Tom Eblen writes, “The Kentucky Association of Health Care Facilities reported in 2017 that members had raised more than $170,000 in donations for state Senate and House races. That seems to be why bills filed year after year to set minimum nursing home staffing requirements never see the light of day.” He urges readers to check the Kentucky Registry of Election Finance website to see who is giving to their legislators.
In an editorial calling for action, the Herald-Leader says, “Shamefully, our legislature has done more to protect the nursing home industry than to protect the Kentuckians who live in nursing homes. . . . We don’t expect easy solutions. The nursing home industry is a powerful lobby. But for the legislature to keep ignoring the problems in the face of so much suffering is cowardly and wrong and must end.”