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New Illinois Budgetary Decisions Disappoint Nursing Home Advocates

The outlook for Illinois nursing homes is grim following closed door budget cut negotiation meetings. Proponents of the budget cut try to mask a gloomy future for the homes by celebrating the fact that 2010 reform measures will remain intact. But our Illinois nursing home neglect lawyers believe that these measures are not enough.

The Chicago Tribune reports that the negotiations were controversial and the trickle down debates are heated. Senator Jacqueline Collins, a supporter of nursing home reform, was frustrated with the hush-hush behind-the-scenes nature of the meetings. Collins believed that the meetings were a disservice to nursing home residents and supporters.

Governor Quinn’s senior healthcare policy advisor essentially admitted to Collins accusations, saying that the negotiations were tipped in favor of the parties with more political power in this area. At the end of the day, the meetings look like a power play in which government officials and select nursing home representatives were able to step around the democratic process and crunch numbers to fit their budget.

Pat Comstock, a self-proclaimed nursing home quality care advocate, attended the private meetings as a representative for patient interests. Weeks ago, Comstock led the charge across Illinois to protest Quinn’s proposed budget cuts. Comstock claimed that proposed Medicaid budget cuts would be extremely damaging to seniors living in nursing homes.

After walking out of the secretive meetings, her story was totally different. According to the Chicago Tribune, Comstock now says nursing home reform and the quality of care will not be hurt by the same level of budget cuts that she vehemently protested just weeks earlier.

Meeting attendees claim that 2010 nursing home reforms will not be hindered by the new budget changes, but it is hard to know exactly what that guarantee means. The Chicago Tribune pointed out that some of the most critical reforms from 2010 and recent laws still have not taken effect.

For example, in January 2012, the federal government approved an increased bed tax which would generate more revenue for the state. As part of the tax, the federal government also said it would grant states who implement the tax more money to support the Medicaid-based needs in nursing homes.

If Illinois implemented the tax, the state would make approximately $145 million in new revenue, and it would be eligible to receive an additional $110 million from the federal government. Total increased revenue for Medicaid could be around $255 million dollars.

Dollars gained from bed tax revenue could then be redirected to improve nursing staff-to-patient ratios and also to increase the number of state quality inspectors. Governor Quinn strongly supported the federal law, but since it passed nothing in Illinois has changed.

Instead, in upcoming months the standards appear pretty low. Pursuant to the new negotiations, only 10 percent of nursing home patient care will be provided by registered nurses (registered nurses have 2 to 6 years of training and are the most qualified type of nurse in homes). Additionally, 25 percent of the care will be provided by licensed nurses (licensed nurses have only a year of training).

Nursing home supporters initially wanted to persuade Illinois lawmakers to require registered nursing to administer 20 percent of the in-home care. The new budget could impact homes in many ways.

Meeting participants say the new budget will encourage nursing homes to focus care on the neediest patients. Encouragement will come by way of economic coercion; Medicaid dollars will be doled out liberally to homes caring for acutely ill patients, but homes with less ill patients will get less money.

It is hard to tell if this new funding distribution scheme, called ‘resource utilization group’, will be helpful or harmful. Focusing on the seriously ill patients is good, but that does not make it acceptable to push out patients with less serious needs.

Our nursing home abuse attorneys are worried about the standards of care in coming months. People in nursing homes deserve loving and attentive care. Most people would not freely decide to live in a nursing home if they did not have to. Abruptly deciding to change the level of care given to certain patients based on their medical condition could put people in a dangerous position.