Modernizing Nursing Home Safety

According to a recent article from Kaiser Health News and NPR, proposed federal rules are aiming at “modernizing” nursing home safety requirements across the country. What does modernization mean in this context? Given that the proposal contains “hundreds of pages of proposed changes,” which “cover everything from meal times to use of antipsychotic drugs to staffing,” it looks like modernization would require quite a bit of effort. In all likelihood, such modernization is deeply needed to help prevent nursing home neglect at facilities in California and throughout the nation.

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Better Technology Requires Revision to the Rules

If approved the proposed rules will require nursing homes comply in order to qualify for payments from Medicare and Medicaid. Medicare officials also think it’s time for a change. According to Dr. Shari Ling, the deputy chief medical officer for Medicare, “the existing regulations don’t even conceive of electronic communications the way they exist today.”

In addition, as Ling explains, the rules need to be revised since “there have been significant advances in the science and delivery of health care that just weren’t imagined at the time the rules were originally written.” For instance, Ling points out, “the risks of antipsychotic medications and overuse of antibiotics are now clearly known, when previously they were thought to be harmless.” Given such shifts in technology and knowledge, the proposed regulations have a specific section about how electronic health records should be managed.

Making Nursing Homes a Safer Place to Live

What else, specifically, will nursing homes need to do in order to prevent patient injuries and to help make these facilities safer and healthier places to live? While we can’t detail the information in the hundreds of pages that make up the proposed revisions to the rules, we can provide you with some of the highlights, including but not limited to the following:

  • Strengthening infection control;
  • Minimizing antibiotics and antipsychotic drugs;
  • Promoting individualized care to “help make nursing homes feel more like home” by allowing residents to have snacks and meals at “non-traditional times or outside scheduled meal times”;
  • Allowing nursing home residents to choose their roommates;
  • Training nurses in dementia care;
  • Training nurses in elder abuse prevention; and
  • Reporting of staffing levels, which will be reviewed by Medicare officials.

Commentators suggest that elder advocates won’t be pleased that the proposed changes don’t address a specific nurse-to-resident ratio, and that revisions to the rules won’t involve specifics on enforcement.

However, requiring additional training for nurses can go a long way in helping to reduce the number of injuries caused by nursing home abuse and neglect. While deepening the skill sets of staff members won’t necessarily change the number of nurses at each facility, officials believe that better training can help “to provide the nursing care a resident needs rather than a static number of staff hours of nursing care that does not consider resident characteristics.”

And changes such as those allowing residents to choose the person or persons with whom they’ll room can have a big impact on someone’s daily well-being. As the proposed rules explain, given that nursing facilities aren’t just medical-care centers but also homes, it’s important for residents to feel the same way. The roommate provision “would provide for a rooming arrangement that could include a same-sex couple, siblings, other relatives, long term friends, or any other combination.”

Officials are hopeful that changes to the rules will make enforcement easier by making violations clearer to investigators. In the meantime, if you have concerns about nursing home abuse or neglect in a Southern California facility, you should contact an experienced San Diego nursing home abuse lawyer as soon as possible.

Photo Credit: Neil. Moralee via Compfight cc

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