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Groups To Hear Better Care Plan For State Homes

Jan 10, 2003 | The Oklahoman

Video cameras in the rooms of nursing home patients and minimum two-year jail sentences for those convicted of abusing nursing home residents are among recommendations to be considered during a state Capitol hearing today.

Other proposals include establishing a new state board to review all nursing home deaths and requiring nursing home officials to provide in-depth information to prospective customers.

"I'm always concerned about nursing home care. All proposals need to be aired," said state Rep. Ron Kirby, D-Lawton, who will moderate today's scheduled 1 p.m. hearing in Room 412-C. Also attending will be state Rep. Deborah Blackburn, D- Oklahoma City.

Representatives from several Oklahoma senior-citizen organizations and long-term care advocacy groups also are expected to attend. Those agencies include AARP, Alliance on Aging, OK Inch, Silver-Haired Legislature, the Long-term Care Ombudsman office, state Council on Aging, and A Perfect Cause.

Kirby said some of the proposals will be possible, while others will be unrealistic, particularly because of Oklahoma's budget problems.

"Not all nursing home owners are operating badly. Most nursing homes try hard to do the best job possible," Kirby said.

"I'm not interested in punishing nursing home officials. I'm interested in obtaining the best possible care for all nursing home residents."

A dozen nursing home reform proposals were aired briefly Thursday during an Oklahoma City meeting of the state Council on Aging.

"What is woefully lacking in Oklahoma nursing home care is accountability," said Wes Bledsoe, president of A Perfect Cause, a state nursing home advocacy organization started three years ago after Bledsoe's grandmother died in a south Oklahoma City nursing home.

About 25,000 Oklahomans live in state nursing homes.

Bledsoe is proposing that relatives or guardians of nursing home residents be allowed to install video and audio monitors in residents' rooms.

"Nursing home officials tell you to just leave or get out if you start talking about video cameras," Bledsoe said.

Sean Voskuhl, Oklahoma AARP associate director, said audio-video technology would help out-of-state relatives keep track of loved ones in Oklahoma nursing homes.

"Cameras shouldn't be used as a 'gotcha' tactic, but they could help in so many ways. We are very interested in this type of proposal," Voskuhl said.

Minimum two-year sentences for nursing home employees convicted of "caretaker abuse, neglect and exploitation" are necessary because most abusers are given a slap on the wrist and deferred sentences for their crimes, Bledsoe said.

Other proposals, he said, include requiring nursing homes with dementia patients to immediately report to family members and police officers when residents disappear.

Nursing homes, he said, also should be required to report to authorities when patients suffer from serious malnutrition, dehydration, urinary bladder infections, fecal impactions and bedsores.

Under mandatory rules, these "five major causes of preventable deaths in nursing homes" would have to be reported within two hours of initial discovery to the patient's physician and guardian, and within 12 hours to the state Health Department.

A proposed "nursing home death reporting and review" board, similar to one in place in Arkansas, would mandate investigations of all nursing home deaths in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma nursing homes, Bledsoe said, also should be required to provide "reasonable accommodations" to both male and female residents. For example, female nursing home patients need women for assistance with personal hygiene and other activities instead of male employees.

Another proposed reform would require full disclosure of nursing home ownership and identification of a nursing home's medical director.

Officials from the Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers, formerly the Nursing Home Association of Oklahoma, were unavailable for comment Thursday on the reform recommendations.

On Thursday, state Council on Aging members said they were disappointed in the recent discontinuance of Medicaid reimbursements for mental health services for nursing home residents.

Esther Houser, state ombudsman, said it is unhealthy to put patients with violent behavioral tendencies and severe, chronic mental illnesses in the same facilities with frail, elderly patients.

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