We salute the Courier-Journal (www.courier-journal.com), the daily newspaper based in Louisville, Kentucky, for their bold endorsement of House Bill 157, currently held hostage by Rep. Tom Burch (Co-Chair, Health & Welfare Committee) that would mandate minimum staffing requirements for nursing homes in the Commowealth!  The following editorial appeared in today’ s edition (2/9/10) and is reprinted for your consideration.

Editorial  |  Nursing Home Reform

The real priorities of the General Assembly are on shocking display in the battle over a nursing home reform bill. The measure, House Bill 157, which is intended to set minimum standards for staffing, is similar to laws that exist in 37 states.

But the reform bill’s co-sponsor told The Courier-Journal’s Laura Ungar that its chances seem dim this session.

Meanwhile, over the past decade the nursing homes’ trade group has showered a quarter of a million dollars on Frankfort lawmakers, some of whom are persuaded – surprise – that the reform is unnecessary.

The claim of trade group president Ruby Jo Cummins Lubarsky would be laughable, if it were not so sad. The nursing home bill, she says, is not needed because, “Numbers don’t equate to quality. Staffing is very important in a facility, and there is no incentive for a facility to not meet the needs of its residents.”

Ask anyone who has had a friend or relative in a nursing home whether the issue of staffing isn’t a major one. Even in the best-run homes, it’s not uncommon for aides to be surly, dilatory or lack basic communication skills. And residents, many of whom suffer deep depression, dementia and other conditions, are often incapable of being heard when they complain. The powerful stench of feces and urine often greet the visitor at the door. Residents may lie or sit for hours in wet diapers or on fouled sheets – simply because there is not enough help, or because it’s not responsive enough.

Many nursing homes benefit handsomely from Medicare and Medicaid tax dollars. Many are for-profit operations that cut back on staff to pump up the bottom line. Federal regulations are considered inadequate by knowledgeable observers and by all but 13 states.

The elderly in Kentucky deserve better than that. And the legislators holding the bill back should have them on their consciences.

As mentioned in a previous journal entry, we are asking all Kentucky citizens of voting age to contact their state representative to 1) Ask for support of House Bill 157, 2) Ask them to put pressure on Rep. Tom Burch to allow the bill to come up for both discussion and vote in his Health & Welfare Committee. Additionally, please contact Rep. Burch directly via telephone at his Frankfort office: (502) 564-8100 Extension 601, or via e-mail: Tom.Burch@lrc.ky.gov.