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Nursing Home Attorneys Witness The Fight Against Understaffed Nursing Homes in Illinois

Low Staff Numbers in Nursing HomesA fierce battle has been waged in the Illinois legislature over the last two years over whether nursing homes should be required to maintain minimum staff levels. Senate bill 2840 addresses whether or not facilities should be required to maintain certain numbers of nurses on their staff— the current bill requires ten percent of the care patients receive to come from fully trained registered nurses as opposed to a mixture of registered nurses and practical nurses.

Critics of the bill argue that the bill does not serve its purpose and that the required number of registered nurses should be higher. Governor Pat Quinn is expected to sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk, a move that has many people up in arms and accusing him of allowing for-profit nursing home companies to influence regulation.

The Need for Accountability

Senate Bill 2840 was introduced due to studies that show a correlation between nursing home neglect and inadequate staffing. Other studies showed that for-profit nursing facilities did little to address this issue and intentionally kept their staffs smaller in order to reduce their overhead. By requiring all nursing homes in the state of Illinois to provide a minimum standard of care to patients by registered nurses, the quality of care would be greater and the number of cases of neglect, patient injury and premature death would likely decline.

In 2010, the nursing home reform law was signed into law, officially mandating that nursing facilities gradually increase the number of certain types of staff members each year until 2014. Lawmakers felt that the law did not go far enough and introduced Senate Bill 2840 in an attempt to require even higher numbers of qualified workers at each nursing home. The Illinois department of health made the suggestion that at least twenty percent of care should come from registered nurses.

Outside Influence

The Health Care Council of Illinois represents for-profit nursing home companies throughout the state and made a significant push to lobby against many of the provisions in Senate Bill 2840 or to reduce the requirements to lower levels. HCCI held private meetings with Governor Quinn on the issue and suggested that research did not support the need for twenty percent of care to be administered by nurses and suggested ten percent as well, which is not significantly higher than what has already been required by the 2010 nursing home reform law.

Governor Quinn agreed to HCCI’s suggestions and infuriated lawmakers who saw the deal as the betrayal of our elderly in favor of the interests of the nursing homes that provide their care. While HCCI argues that their nursing homes will still be required to higher more nurses under this new law, advocates of the original policy argue that the change will barely affect anything and many senior citizens will continue to be neglected. Others are appalled that the nursing homes that created the need for this legislation to begin with by failing to properly staff their facilities and give patients adequate care were allowed to influence the end result.

Studies support the need for larger staffs and more nurses in nursing facilities and also show that for-profit facilities will not meet those needs unless required to by law. Falls, bedsores, dehydration, malnutrition and other injuries and illnesses that result from negligence occur more frequently in facilities that lack proper numbers of registered nurses to care for all of the patients in the facility. Unfortunately, Senate Bill 2840 will do little to solve the issue, but some lawmakers have made the claim that something is better than nothing and the new law will do more than what is already required by the law passed in 2010.

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