Column: Obamacare to affect nursing facilities

By Samantha Rosenthal

Central Florida Future, U. Central Florida via UWIRE

Since the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was passed this summer, states and many rights groups have been arguing about the pros and cons. The effect the act has on senior citizens due to Medicaid/Medicare cuts, as well as its effect on nursing homes, are both prominent concerns. Many senior rights groups were enthusiastic about the recent legislation, claiming it allowed them to acquire more benefits from Medicaid and Medicare. Max Richtman, head of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, ensured citizens they would “get more and pay less for it.”

The lowering of drug prices for those with Medicare is a plus, but where are the other benefits? With a decrease of $716 billion for Medicare, President Barack Obama is using a double-edged sword on senior citizens, as hospitals have to downsize staffs to afford budget and salary cuts. This does allow senior citizens in hospitals and nursing homes to have the same benefits with lower costs and deductibles. However, there will not be enough staff to attend to the sick and ill, which in the end will fuel the two main causes of incidents in nursing homes right now — the transferring of patients to different facilitations, as well as abuse and neglect.

One of the most recent problems for sick and disabled senior citizens is their treatment in nursing homes. Florida has come under fire during the past few years due to many investigative reports revealing the true nature of these facilities and lack of care being provided.

Brian Lee, the former long-term care ombudsman for Florida and current head of Families for Better Care, a nursing reform advocacy group, explained the need for reform to untangle the massive nursing corporation conglomerate that subcontracts the task of running these facilities and to provide transparency. Facilities need to stop sacrificing quality, trained staff members for profits.

“I’ve seen more neglect in my lifetime than anyone ever should: Elderly people beaten, slapped around, dehydration, bedsores,” Lee said to Take Part. “There’s no end in sight unless nursing homes are accountable with their money. And the way to do that is through transparency.”

What will become of these rampantly neglected nursing homes providing subpar care when budget and staffing is cut even more?
Gov. Rick Scott has failed to acknowledge the effect it will have on the Florida nursing facility system, and major counties have reported various adverse incidents, incidents in which facility staff or personnel could have exercised control, but occurred as a result of the resident’s condition.

According to the Agency for Health Care Administration, there was a total of 2,090 adverse incidents from 2007-2008, with 37 percent of these cases resulting from neglect and abuse. Counties with the most incidents are concentrated in South Florida (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties), Orange County and Pinellas County, where 44 percent of the population is more than 55 years old.

The Miami Herald featured a three-part series investigative report about nursing homes in Florida. The series investigated the causes of deaths, leading to the exposure of many horrible truths about conditions in nursing homes.

The articles discuss various patients who died due to preventable circumstances had there been a better and more attentive staff. According to the Miami Herald, the Agency for Health Care Administration has failed to properly oversee Florida’s 2,850 nursing homes and operators, investigate dangerous practices or act on notifications submitted by its own inspectors about possible instances of neglect and abuse.

One incident included a 71-year-old patient who died from burn injuries. The mentally ill patient was left in a bathtub with scalding water in a Hialeah nursing home. In 2011 alone, police made roughly 13,250 calls to assisted living facilities in Broward County. This averages out to about one call every four hours. The signs of possible nursing home neglect and abuse also include dehydration, frequent infections and also overmedication/sedation.

In 1980, Miami Congressman Claude Pepper passed the Residents Bill of Rights to protect and uphold the quality of conditions and lifestyle present in these facilities, but it seems as though Florida has digressed in recent years.

Will the new cuts to Medicaid and Medicare under Obamacare aid our senior citizens, especially those in nursing homes? With the requirement of health insurance, yet less funding to provide the benefits and funding to the programs, there is a correlation between the continued poor care of these patients, especially in the conglomerate that the nursing facilitation industry has become.

But in a generation where quality is sacrificed for quantity, we must ask ourselves does the state government really care at all about these senior citizens, the nursing homes and the growing issue of the sublevel quality of life in these institutions? The answer is clear.

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