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What’s wrong with Kentucky’s nursing homes?

The nursing homes in Kentucky have problems — and advocates for residents say that no one in the government is doing anything to fix them.

Federal law is somewhat vague about the staffing requirements for nursing homes, leaving it mostly up to the states to pass legislation that is more specific. Kentucky, however, has not done so. Efforts to pass a 2017 bill that would have required a mandatory minimum staff fell flat. Those opposed — who largely represent the nursing homes’ interests — said that Kentucky’s nursing homes simply couldn’t manage it. The bill would have required just a single nurse for every 21 patients during daylight hours and one nurse’s aide for every 10 patients.

In essence, the lack of legislation leaves Kentucky’s nursing homes able to set their own minimum staffing levels — and they prefer it that way. According to a rating system used by the United States Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, 43 percent of the state’s nursing homes were rated either “much below” or “below” average when it came to the type of care they provide their residents. That puts Kentucky toward the bottom of the national list.

In a very real way, poor quality care comes down to staffing problems all over the state. Despite collecting almost a billion dollars from the Medicaid program, Kentucky’s for-profit nursing home industry is in no hurry to pay any of that money back out on staffing. They’d rather contribute to lobbying efforts that keep the status quo in place.

As a result, legislators have only passed laws that make it harder for victims and their families to sue for injuries caused by substandard care. Would-be plaintiffs now have to go through a lengthy review process by a medical panel before their lawsuits are considered credible enough to proceed. Some legislators have also proposed limiting attorneys’ fees and restricting even what attorneys can say about a nursing facility’s safety violations in their ads — acts that would silence many victims.

Poor quality care and substandard staffing in nursing homes lead to serious injuries and wrongful deaths. However, no one is going to listen to calls for reform until enough people stand up for their rights and insist that legislators listen to them — instead of listening to the voices of those that want to keep the problems hidden.

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