Illinois Nursing Home Neglect: Advocates lose fight over minimum staffing levels

Minimum staffing levels in nursing homes help guard against the possibility of nursing home neglect in Chicago and throughout the state.

So it was particularly frustrating to elder advocates when Illinois lawmakers sided with the nursing home industry — putting corporate profits ahead of the welfare of our most vulnerable adults. After a two-year debate, the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill without the input of advocates.

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While a spokesperson for the nursing home industry said it won’t infringe upon rights passed in the state’s 2010 nursing home reform law, others are convinced industry influence in Springfield will always prevail.

A Chicago nursing home neglect attorney understands the need for oversight. Too few large corporations control the majority of the nursing home beds in Illinois. A long history of abuse and neglect in Illinois nursing homes — including the housing of mentally ill felons with vulnerable older adult populations — has finally led to some reform.

But the truth of the matter is these corporations wield tremendous power and influence. Nationwide, over half the nursing home beds are owned by chain corporations and two-thirds are operated as for-profit companies. Combining political influence with shrinking state and federal dollars can be a recipe for disaster.

The State Journal-Register reported the nursing home industry contends Senate Bill 2840 will actually increase staffing beyond the requirements provided in the 2010 law.

The 2010 reforms call for a gradual increase through 2014 in the amount of personal and nursing care that a patient must receive. Left up in the air was what type of nurse would provide the additional care. Earlier this year, the Illinois Department of Public Health proposed requiring at least 20 percent of the care be provided by registered nurses.

Advocates supported the 20 percent requirement, contending patients would receive better, more experienced care than if fulfilling the requirements was left to staff with less training and experience. Holding the industry to such requirements would also help justify the additional $105 million in Medicaid funding facilities are set to receive after Illinois lawmakers approved a new bed tax in January 2011.

The final bill send to Governor Pat Quinn includes the industry’s preferred 10 percent requirement and spares the industry from all but 2.7 percent of a proposed 15 percent funding cut.

Illinois Sen. Jacqueline Collins, D-Chicago, said Chicago nursing homes are at particularly high risk for staffing issues. She said the issue was not resolved out in the open, but rather cut in a back room deal with the nursing home industry, which is one of the largest contributors to political campaigns in Illinois.

Still, most of Illinois’ nursing homes will be required to hire more registered nurses because of the law. And more professional staff is a primary way to reduce the risk of nursing home neglect or abuse in Illinois nursing homes.

We guess from that standpoint the glass is at least half full.

If you suspect elder neglect or abuse is occurring in an Illinois nursing home or assisted-living facility, contact Abels & Annes for a free and confidential appointment to discuss your rights. Call 855-LAW-CHICAGO. There is no fee unless you win.