Pandemic lessons evident in nursing home proposal

BOSTON (State House News Service) – Care of the elderly in nursing homes and across the continuum of services should be improved, and the COVID-19 pandemic could serve as the impetus for that change, said Monday the Senate chairman of the Seniors Affairs Committee. .

“We need to create supportive housing, supportive housing, home care and family caregiver support, and change the funding – increase the funding – for everyone, and allow people to get care in the community. the community, ”said the senator. Pat Jehlen said during a virtual advocacy day for AARP Massachusetts.

Jehlen, a Democrat from Somerville, grew emotional as she urged advocates to remember “how we felt in May, in March of last year” as the first wave of COVID-19 ravaged communities. nursing homes.

“I was talking to nursing home administrators who were in tears because they had three nursing assistants trying to feed 12 people who couldn’t feed themselves, because we had people who didn’t feed because they weren’t able to feed themselves. “There weren’t enough staff to bring their meals to their rooms,” Jehlen recalls. “Girls called me because they couldn’t reach their parents. One woman had her mother, who didn’t speak English and had no one to talk to and had invasive things happening to her like COVID testing, and she didn’t know what was going on. She had no one to talk to.

Jehlen and Newton Representative Ruth Balser spoke to the lobby day attendees about their bill (S 414, H 727) which proposes new requirements for nursing homes, with the aim of improving the quality of nursing homes. care.

The bill includes provisions that would increase the minimum number of hours of care per resident per day from 3.5 to 4.1, require nursing facilities to have epidemic response plans, develop a path to single occupancy rooms and increase staff training through career development programs.

Balser and Jehlen said the bill would also force long-term care facilities to adopt policies aimed at preventing the social isolation of residents, including through the use of technology.

Visitor restrictions instituted earlier in the pandemic were “terribly painful” for long-term care residents, Balser said.

“Some people have tragically died alone. Those who survived only suffered from isolation, so this bill is truly a wonderful attempt to honor the memories of those we lost while trying to reform the nursing home industry and making nursing homes a better place to age, ”she said. .

Financial challenges, facility closures and worker shortages have put nursing homes on the radar of policymakers before COVID-19 takes hold in Massachusetts and places new burdens on facilities, their staff and residents.

In February 2020, the same month the state’s first confirmed coronavirus case was identified, a nursing home task force whose members included Jehlen and Balser released a report that articulated four policy goals: to adjust the size of the industry “in response to current and future demand”, reform the tariff structure, promote high quality care and ensure a sustainable workforce.

A $ 3.82 billion spending plan the House passed last week, allocating both American Rescue Plan Act and fiscal 2021 excess tax funds, included $ 70 million for care facilities.

In September, the Massachusetts Senior Care Association explained how it wants the state to spend its excess income and federal relief dollars. The association called for a one-time investment of $ 98 million for the 22,000 nursing home residents whose care is supported by MassHealth, as well as another one-time investment of $ 461 million over three years to fund a nursing facility workforce fund, quality care and resident experience fund and an infrastructure fund.

Association president Tara Gregorio said in a Sept. 21 statement that healthcare facilities in Massachusetts face an “urgent and immediate need to hire and retain direct care workers.” She said “growing financial instability” had led to 11 recent closings and predicted that more than 100 establishments were “at risk of closing in the next 12 months.”

Senate leaders are expected to detail their plans for an ARPA bill this week.

President Ron Mariano told AARP that in addition to nursing home money, the House spending bill also contained $ 150 million for the production of permanent supportive housing “for our people. most vulnerable populations, including the elderly ”.

“These much-needed funds will help create more affordable housing and provide full services to those who live there,” he said. “It is so important that we support our seniors and our caregivers as we continue to navigate our way through the COVID-19 pandemic. “

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