White House proposes hope for nursing home residents
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed longstanding problems in nursing homes that are being addressed through systemic reform at the federal level. Last week, the White House, proclaiming that “All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” announced important initiatives that can improve the safety, care and quality of life for millions of vulnerable nursing home residents, now and in the future.
The pandemic has taken a devastating toll on nursing home residents nationally, and in particular in Massachusetts – more than 5,700 nursing home resident deaths account for about 30% of the state’s COVID-19 deaths even though nursing home residents comprise less than half of 1% of the commonwealth’s population.
A White House statement details key reforms that aim to protect vulnerable residents, assert the dignity of residents and their caregivers, and hold nursing homes accountable when they fail to follow federal requirements.
These important initiatives will ensure taxpayer dollars support nursing homes that provide safe, adequate and dignified care by implementing safe staffing levels, addressing the misuse of antipsychotic drugs and more, including:
Enhancing accountability and oversight;
Increasing transparency of facility ownership and finances and a range of improvements to Care Compare, a website to help select a nursing home;
Creating pathways to good-paying jobs with the free and fair choice to join a union; and
Ensuring pandemic and emergency preparedness in nursing homes.
“This is the biggest and most positive news for nursing home residents in the 35 years since the Nursing Home Reform Act was established,” said Arlene Germain, executive director of the Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform and a co-founder of Dignity Alliance Massachusetts. “For years, we have watched as an increasingly sophisticated and corporatized industry has, too often, cut back on staffing and essential services to maximize profits. We are profoundly grateful to the president for taking these critical actions for the safety, well-being, and dignity of vulnerable residents, their families, caregivers, and American taxpayers, who foot the bill for most nursing home care.”
Dignity Alliance Massachusetts is a statewide coalition of individuals and organizations advocating for older adults, persons with disabilities, and their caregivers. We came together two years ago during the initial days of the COVID-19 pandemic in an attempt to strengthen nursing home regulations and protect the most vulnerable Massachusetts citizens — frail older adults and persons with disabilities living in unsafe facilities.
This year will be critical in efforts to bring nursing homes, which have been operating essentially unchanged for more than 50 years, into the 21st century. The burgeoning of America’s population of older adults and persons with disabilities demands that the provision of long-term services, support, and care must be provided at the highest level of quality and safety and with the assurance of each person’s individual choices and dignity.
Dignity Alliance Massachusetts was initiated in the earliest days of the pandemic as the disease was rampaging in facilities across the state and throughout the country. Today, we are amplifying our work to improve care and staffing, demand transparency and accountability, emphasize alternatives, and assure dignity and choice. In this pivotal year of electoral politics at the state and federal levels, we are launching Dignity Votes 2022. This is a non-partisan undertaking to ensure long-term care issues and reform proposals are embedded in the platform of every candidate for statewide, congressional and legislative office. To learn how you can become involved, please contact us at info@DignityAllianceMA.org.
Paul Lanzikos is cofounder of Dignity Alliance Massachusetts.