JEFFERSON CITY - Several years after the legislature first took up nursing home reform, a bill that would increase fines on nursing homes with violations while relaxing inspections on those with good records is on its way to the governor's desk.
The Senior Care and Protection Act, sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Peter Kinder, R-Cape Girardeau, passed the Senate with a unanimous vote Wednesday.
The bill would raise maximum fines from $1,000 to $10,000 a day for nursing homes that put residents' lives in danger. It would also require nationwide background checks for all nursing home employees.
Kinder said the bill's passage means that family members of Missourians will receive better care.
The bill passed both houses nearly unanimously.
Rep. Harold Selby, D-Cedar Hill, cast the only dissenting vote. He said the bill isn't tough enough and he is suspicious of why the nursing home lobbyists aren't against the bill.
So, he said he's looking for possible explanations in the bill's language. Selby said the bill requires strict in-home inspections for seniors wishing to receive in-home services instead of going to a nursing home.
"Where the trick -- the plan is -- is that they're going to make it so hard for people to stay home, they'll come back to the nursing home," Selby said.
Thus, Selby said, nursing homes will make more money from the increased number of patients.
The House passed the final version of the bill Tuesday night. One House amendment deleted a provision that would have made adjustments in the state's Medicaid payments to nursing homes to keep up with inflation.
Rep. Mike Sutherland, R-Warrenton and chair of the House Senior Security Committee, said the budget could not cover the expense of these funds, which would amount to $73 million in the final year of implementation.
The bill now awaits the governor's signature.
Gov. Bob Holden issued a statement of support Wednesday after the Senate gave the bill final approval.
"I will review the bill when it gets to my desk, but I anticipate signing this much-needed legislation into law and providing greater protection for the health and safety of Missouri seniors," Holden said in the statement.
Shortly after the Senate approved the bill, state officials and legislators spoke to senior citizens at a rally sponsored by the AARP.
Lt. Gov. Joe Maxwell told seniors that it was a day of victory for them.
"This will strengthen and protect Missouri seniors in our nursing homes -- our loved ones, our families," Maxwell said.
Holden told seniors that their presence contributed to the quick action on a senior protection bill that wasn't "watered down."
Maxwell told seniors the victory of one bill doesn't mean the fight is over.
"Today is a day to thank your legislators for their work on this issue, but today is not a day to declare total victory for there is much work to be done before the sun sets on this legislative session," he said.
He mentioned the senior prescription drug bill, which is currently in the legislature.