Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Congress Would Cut Nursing Home Funds, Relax Standards

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Congress Would Cut Nursing Home Funds, Relax Standards

Article excerpt

Forgive me if I scare you. Bob Dole says I mustn't do that. The presidential contender talked recently about a "transparent campaign to scare Americans." One day, he said, we're scaring seniors, the next day it's farmers, the next it's children.

The problem is that Congress is rolling over a lifespan of programs for vulnerable Americans. The remaining progressives on or off Capital Hill feel like roadkill.

One day it is children and the next it is seniors. It's all happening so fast and furiously that Americans haven't been scared enough. In the rush of hit-and-run policies coming out of Washington, it's hard just to focus on one piece of the puzzle.

So try this piece today, the last in the puzzle of life-cycle politics: nursing homes. Try focusing on the 1.5 million elderly Americans who have ended up in these homes. On the federal standards that have made these places safer and have also ended up in the direct line of congressional rush hour.

If the Medicaid proposals pass as they are written, Congress will have deregulated nursing homes and undone its own reforms. We will be fast-forwarding to the past.

Any journalist watching this Congress can come up with a list of stories that will fill the newspaper in 1998 or 1999. One of them is sure to be about nursing homes where the elderly are bound to their chairs, drugged or found lying in their own waste.

This was a scandalous staple as late as the 1980s when studies showed abuse and neglect of the elderly disabled even in state-certified homes. In 1987, Congress agreed that a stronger federal role was needed. They passed a law setting standards for quality care.

What has that regulation meant in human terms? Catherine Hawes, a policy analyst in this field, calculates a few of the improvements this way: 250,000 fewer people tied up, 30,000 fewer people with bedsores, 29 percent fewer people with permanent catheters.

Hawes, who grew up as a Tennessee Republican, says with dismay, "I don't think people knew that the Contract With America said I'm going to tie up your grandmother."

This assault on federal standards is not just part of the Republican hostility to government regulation. …

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