JEFFERSON CITY - Legislative leaders announced a bipartisan effort Monday to make nursing homes safer for Missouri's seniors.
The Senior Care and Protection Act, sponsored by Senate Pres Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, would target nursing homes with a history of violations while loosening regulations on homes that have repeatedly demonstrated good conditions.
The legislation is being heralded by both parties as a long-overdue comprehensive nursing home reform measure that will go beyond the partisan disagreements that have killed bills in the past to produce visible results for the elderly of Missouri.
House Speaker Catharine Hanaway, R-St. Louis County, said the legislation is straightforward.
"In short we want to do two things, we want to reward the good homes, and we want to kick the stuff out of the bad homes," she said.
The legislation would attempt to prevent abuse by requiring nationwide background checks for people who apply to work at nursing homes and would provide increased protection to workers who report violations.
Cindy Wrigley, a lobbyist for nursing home administrators, said the background checks could discourage people from applying to work at nursing homes, as a thirty five dollar application fee would be necessary to pay for the service. Wrigley said the industry is already plagued by staff shortages.
Nursing homes would face increased fines for violations, and administrators who conceal abuse or neglect would be charged as felons. Also, the legislation would make records of nursing homes more accessible to the public.
But good nursing homes would have fewer required inspections each year, allowing inspectors to focus more time and energy on homes suspect of abuse and neglect.
Lillian Metzger, who serves as Pres. of the Board for the Silver-Haired Legislature said that during her sister's nine-year stay in a nursing home, she witnessed firsthand some of the problems that can arise.
"When you get to my age, we all have people in nursing homes. It's to the point now where most of the elderly people pray that they'll never get put in a nursing home," she said. "The end of life should not give a feeling of dissertion."
Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell said while this bill would help make sure that nursing homes are safe, consumers must make informed decisions about who they trust with their relatives.
"Often times the consumer spends more time determining the performance and safety standards of the next automobile they're going to buy than they do on finding out which nursing home provides quality of care for a loved one," he said.