Elder justice and patient safety

On September 9, I posted a troubling story of nursing home abuse and government “damage control” that raised the issue of families setting up surveillance cameras in their loved ones’ rooms, and if such behavior should be punishable or excusable. Unbeknownst to me, Congress was already addressing solutions to elder abuse—and in a much more costly way than my ruminating diatribe against shady politicos.

The next day, the Senate Finance Committee approved two bills that, if agreed upon by the House, could authorize hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and programs to document and prevent crime against elders.

First was bill S 1070, known as the Elder Justice Act. It would establish within the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services an Elder Justice Coordinating Council and create the Advisory Board on Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation. At a price tag of $777 million, this offers state and local training programs for long-term care employees and a database to identify and track elder abuse cases.

Complementing the Elder Justice Act was bill S 1577, also called the Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act of 2007. Strict emphasis is placed on the phrasing of “prevention,” as this bill calls for national and state background checks on direct patient access employees of LTC facilities or providers and prohibits the hiring of abusive individuals. Here is a summary of how the system would work:

“…in the case where a direct patient access employee is convicted of a crime following the initial national criminal history background check, and the employee’s fingerprint matches the prints on file with the FBI, the FBI shall inform the state law enforcement department in order for the state to inform the skilled nursing facility, nursing facility, or long-term care facility or provider of such conviction.”

The legislation would provide as much as $160 million in grants over three years to states that seek to participate.

There is no consensus yet between the House and Senate, and these bills could very well die. Even if passed, there is still concern for them to actually deliver on curtailing the behavior they seek to prevent.

Topics: Articles