Illinois lawmakers and families of nursing home residents across Illinois say it is time for reform. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged nursing homes, the facilities had several problems. The pandemic has brought these problems into the spotlight, including inadequate staffing, low pay, and lack of proper care. Consequently, state lawmakers have been hosting hearings to find out what families, departments, and industry leaders think could solve the issues.
The Need for Reforms
Before the pandemic started, nursing home aides were often underpaid and overworked. The pandemic compounded the chronic problems, leading to the increased demand for nursing home reform.
In each shift, nursing home employees help dozens of residents. They tend to do a variety of tasks, such as changing linens, answering call lights, physically rotating residents to help them avoid bedsores, helping them eat, stacking shelves, and ensuring everybody has changed and is in bed. Many nurse aides choose to work at several facilities due to low pay. Nursing homes have also been known to cut corners through inadequate staffing and offering low wages to save money.
All these factors contribute to the nursing home neglect that some residents experience at these facilities. During the pandemic, the existing nursing home problems made the facilities more vulnerable to COVID-19.
A recent study showed that laxity in enforcing the federal staffing requirements made nursing homes suffer worse outcomes during the pandemic. The study found the facilities with coronavirus cases had 25% fewer qualified nurses than the facilities that had no cases. Illinois ranks poorly on nursing home staffing. There are 47 Illinois nursing homes among the 100 facilities with the lowest staffing levels in the country.
Addressing the Problems in Nursing Homes
Lawmakers and advocates are calling for people to get the best quality care in every nursing home in Illinois. Many of them feel that the state cannot achieve that without adequate funding for all nursing homes and their employees. According to the Health Care Council of Illinois, more money can help solve nursing home problems. However, some lawmakers argue that the funding should be distributed properly for it to be effective.
Governor J. B. Pritzker has proposed overhauling how the state reimburses the facilities with Medicaid patients to address the persistent understaffing issue and engender more equity and accountability. The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services (HFS) aspires to increase the reimbursement rates but tying those increases to a nursing home’s staffing levels and safety improvements. The department hopes that lawmakers will authorize this reimbursement methodology by January.
The HFS is also looking to prohibit the use of non-compete clauses by staffing agencies to prevent nursing homes from hiring individuals assigned to them. Many lawmakers and advocates are hoping for a requirement for more transparency in the ownership of nursing homes to be put in place.
There were missed complaints of nursing home abuse and neglect during the period when outside visits were forbidden. As a result, some families of residents have asked that measures be taken to allow more family members to visit residents in person. Following the high employee turnover that contributes to patient care plans not being followed, advocates want nursing homes to make the care plans more readily available. That way, every new nurse will know the plans and services that each patient should receive.