As the U.S. population ages, more and more people have to confront the decision regarding whether to put a loved one into a nursing home. People want the best care for their loved ones and look for facilities that will be a good fit for their loved ones’ needs. In the current difficult economy, however, many states are considering budget cuts that will threaten the safety and quality of care of nursing home residents. Massachusetts is looking to reduce its Medicaid budget, which could lead to more seniors suffering nursing home injuries.
Injuries are a serious problem for many nursing home residents. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) statistics, average-sized nursing home with 100 beds reports 100 to 200 falls per year. About 1,800 seniors die each year from injuries sustained during falls, the CDC reports.
Another common condition among nursing home residents that can be deadly is bed sores. The New England Journal of Medicine reported that approximately 60,000 people die from complications related to bedsores each year.
As challenging as conditions already are in nursing homes, budget cuts are only making them worse. Massachusetts cut the state’s Medicaid funding in an effort to make up budget shortfalls, which could have a detrimental effect on the quality of care that seniors receive in nursing homes.
One of the first programs that Medicaid eliminated under its reduced funding was funding bed-holds to guarantee that nursing home residents who leave the nursing home for short periods of time, such as a sudden hospitalization, will have the same bed when they return to the nursing home. As of November 1, 2011, Medicaid will no longer pay to hold seniors’ beds in Massachusetts.
Federal law mandates that nursing homes must readmit a resident who leaves temporarily, but it does not require that the patient go back to the same bed. Many advocates for seniors argue that changing rooms for nursing home residents is the equivalent of putting them in an entirely new facility because so many suffer from dementia. The confusion that results from being in an unfamiliar room increases the likelihood of falls and other injuries for these residents.
The federal government is also cutting Medicare and Medicaid funding to the states. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced that it will reduce its reimbursement rates to nursing homes by 11.1 percent beginning in October 2011. Nursing homes will be pressured to make up the funding elsewhere, either by cutting costs or raising rates for residents. One of the primary ways that nursing homes cut costs is by firing staff or paying them less. Understaffed nursing homes have the potential to lead to neglected patients and an increase in injuries such as falls, bedsores, malnutrition, and dehydration.
Times are tough across the country and it is understandable that governments need to cut spending in a difficult economy. However, balancing the budget on the backs of senior citizens in nursing homes will cause unneeded suffering and possibly more deaths.