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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Better Safety and Quality Care for Seniors and People with Disabilities

Michealle Gady

Staff Writer

The most significant improvements to the quality and safety of long-term care in the last 20 years were included in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA). But few people are aware of these changes because they have been overshadowed by all the controversy and misinformation that has surrounded the enactment of the comprehensive health reform law. Simply put, these provisions will improve the lives of millions of seniors and people with disabilities—and they deserve attention.  

These provisions are included in three sections of the Affordable Care Act, each of which, on their own, would have been landmark legislation.  

Patient Safety and Abuse Prevention Act: This provision goes a long way to ensure that those who provide care to our seniors and people with disabilities provide a safe environment and do not abuse or neglect them.

Because it’s not as controversial as the mythical “death panels,” you might not have heard much about this provision, but seniors and people with disabilities will begin to see positive changes very soon. Earlier this month, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services awarded $14 million to six states to design and carry out background checks for people who provide care to seniors and people with disabilities in long-term care facilities or in the patient’s home. This will help to ensure that people with this kind of history are not put in a position to take advantage of or harm those who they are supposed to be looking after.

Elder Justice Act: For the first time, there will be a dedicated source of federal funding for adult protective services. The agencies receiving this funding provide services to abused, neglected, or exploited seniors and people with disabilities. They do everything from investigating claims of neglect to legal intervention. The law authorizes significant funding towards investigating claims and additional money to set up programs to test different ways to improve the agencies.

The Elder Justice Act also enhances support for state Long-Term Care Ombudsman offices, which help ensure that people receiving long-term care services receive high-quality care, help educate consumers and their families about their rights, and help resolve complaints made by nursing home residents. Unfortunately, these programs are often understaffed and lack necessary resources. But with an additional $32.5 million allocated to beef up these offices over the next four years, the Ombudsman programs will be better equipped to serve residents and improve the safety and quality of long-term care facilities.

Nursing Home Transparency and Improvement Act: Deciding whether to move into a nursing home or assisted living facility can be difficult for seniors or people with disabilities and their loved ones–especially with so little information often available. Starting next year, the Nursing Home Transparency and Improvement Act requires Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare website to include useful information about the quality of care one will receive at a nursing home, so that families can make an informed decision.

In addition,  the Affordable Care Act takes important steps to improve the long-term care workforce. Without enough direct long-term care providers, such as nurse aides, home health aides, and personal care attendants, long-term care providers can’t provide adequate staffing to ensure the delivery of safe, high-quality care in facilities or at people’s homes.

The Affordable Care Act provides consumers with more choices about where they receive long-term care and services and makes many improvements to and investments in systems to protect seniors and people with disabilities.