Nursing home abuse

April 27, 1999

This is an excerpt of a New York Times editorial that was published yesterday:

THE U.S. population is aging, and as new assisted living communities draw off the more able and affluent retirees, and as increased federal funding allows others to be supported by health care visits at home, nursing homes have acquired the sickest and most dependent of the old.

Of that concentration of 1.6 million people, less than 8 percent can bathe, dress, go to the bathroom, move about and feed themselves without help.

The federal government expects to pay $39 billion for nursing-home care this year. Yet as every study for decades has shown, great numbers of the old, many as helpless as babies, continue to be neglected and abused.

There are, however, some reasons for hope. One is the baby-boom generation, whose members, in places like California, Maryland and Michigan, have begun to complain about the fate of their older relatives in nursing homes.

Another is the Senate Special Committee on Aging chaired by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, which keeps prodding the GAO to investigate, and the Clinton administration to get tougher under present law.

There are signs that the Medicaid and Medicare authorities are beginning to clamp down on nursing home performance. Michigan has an initiative of its own, making rules that have allowed it to force plans of corrective action on homes, and even impose professional managers on them until they improve.

"I welcome this sort of initiative," Mr. Grassley said recently, "and I'm going to be watching this to see if that's something we can build on."

Toward a better end.

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