Illinois lawmakers want nursing home reform plan passed this spring

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) – State lawmakers are trying to find a solution for better care in nursing homes while industry leaders argue about how facilities get paid. While all sides seemed to reach an agreement on reform efforts last month, that compromise has now fallen apart.

Lawmakers, industry leaders and advocates agree nursing homes should have a patient-driven payment model. Officials with the Illinois Department of Health Care and Family Services want to award more funding to nursing homes which are improving their staffing and safety efforts. However, the Health Care Council of Illinois says the state must give them more Medicaid reimbursements in order to come to a compromise.

Several lawmakers say they’re fed up with the delays and want to move forward with a reform plan they already had ready months ago. Rep. Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park) suggested legislation should be filed and any stakeholders who disagree with it can file amendments.

“I think that this is a very transparent way to do it,” Conroy said Tuesday. “And I think in this way, we’ll be able to offer the very best possible policy for some of our most vulnerable residents. That is why we’re here.”

Rep. Kathleen Willis (D-Addison) said it’s clear that the state failed people in nursing homes during this pandemic. She argued now is the time to step up and change the structure for care.

A nursing home resident also pushed for the state to have more permanent staff in facilities instead of temporary agency CNAs. Mark Cooper said his facility is often left dirty and low on supplies for patients. He explained there have been multiple nights without a CNA available to help a floor of 60 people with medical issues, cleaning, or eating.

Cooper also volunteered to bring another patient into his room because staff kept “pushing him around like furniture.” While he understands the lack of staffing in nursing homes across the state, Cooper said something must change quickly.

“There’s a measuring stick by someone’s standards as to what constitutes a reasonable standard of care in a nursing home just as there is in a hospital. I don’t know what that is,” Cooper said. “But none of that has been adhered to in the past year. Even before that, it was problematic.”

Meanwhile, the Health Care Council of Illinois wants to see more data from the state to understand the financial impact the reforms could have on member facilities. Executive Director Matt Pickering says the proposed Medicaid reimbursement plan from HFS could cut critical funding from 130 skilled nursing facilities in Illinois. He also stressed that the plan could put at least 50 nursing homes at serious risk of closing due to financial insolvency.

Pickering said those closures could displace up to 5,000 residents in mostly rural parts of the state and other areas with a need for services.

“We are not aware of any plan that HFS or anyone else has for these 5,000 people,” Pickering said. “If they do, I would like to know what that is.”

Pickering said some facilities are already seeing what could happen without proper funding. Heritage Health in Springfield is closing this week due to insufficient Medicaid funding, increased pandemic expenses, and struggles to recruit and pay staff.

The Illinois Health Care Association agrees that the current proposal could result in closing more facilities. Although, Executive Director Matt Hartman says the state has the capacity to care for displaced residents.

“Is a closure worse than providing worse care to the people who exist in the building at present? I don’t believe the answer is yes,” Hartman said. “I think it’s a resounding no. I think the time to act on this is now.”

Lawmakers agreed the discussions can’t drag out any longer and stakeholders must agree on a solution during session this spring. If anything, Cooper’s message was clear to everyone during the hearing Tuesday: Think of the residents first.

“All of this, it wears on people. You know, these are human beings. They’re not cattle,” Cooper said. “They just want to be treated with dignity.”

Copyright 2021 WGEM. All rights reserved.


December 14, 2021 at 07:13PM

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