New York Magazine reported that 63,000 Americans died of a drug overdose.  About 42,200 of last year’s drug deaths were linked to opioids, up from 33,000 the year before. In October, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a public-health emergency – but declined to call for a single dollar in new funding to address the crisis.  Nothing is being done about it.  It is a national tragedy that affects every strata of society.

This epidemic of drug deaths reduced life expectancy in the United States for the second consecutive year — the first time that’s happened since the early 1960s. Beyond the incalculable human toll of all this death, the opioid crisis cost the American economy $504 billion in 2015 alone, according to the White House Council of Economic Advisers.

The most effective remedy for opioid addiction, bar none, is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). Under MAT, addicts are provided with methadone and buprenorphine — less powerful opioids that satiate most addicts’ cravings, and arrest their withdrawal symptoms, without inducing heroin’s debilitating, euphoric high. Decades of research, the World Health OrganizationCDC, and National Institute on Drug Abuse have all demonstrated MAT’s efficacy. Some studies suggest that the treatment reduces mortality among drug addicts by more than 50 percent. And yet, the therapy is only available in about 10 percent of America’s conventional drug-treatment facilities.

WKYT reported that Polly A. Campbell, who was a registered nurse at Signature at Heritage Hall, was arrested after police say she stole medicine from a nursing home.  Officers say Campbell stole from multiple patients at the center. They say she worked at Heritage Hall for five or six months.

Campbell is charged with multiple counts of Theft by Unlawful Taking Controlled Substances, multiple counts of Theft of Medical Records and Presciption Controlled Substance Not in Proper Container.  More charges are possible after the nursing home completes an audit of their medications.

The Nation had an article about “Non-disclosure agreements” (NDAs) which effectively bound victims to secrecy, barring them from publicly revealing their stories.  NDAs are part of an arsenal of legal tools that employers and insurance companies have at their disposal to protect both their reputation and their bottom line—but those tools often come at the expense of victims.  Another is “forced arbitration,” a provision in many contracts that requires victims to channel their disputes through an extralegal negotiation process, rather than through the courts. Under Obama, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau had banned forced arbitration in employment contracts, but last month Trump and Congress killed that protection.

According to the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), both forced arbitration and NDAs have in many workplaces become a standard tactic to preempt workers from taking legal action or disclosing sexual-harassment and -assault charges. These agreements force workers to sign away their rights in exchange for a job, by making them agree to settle future disputes outside the courts through an opaque negotiation process controlled by management and lawyers—effectively sentencing women to silence before they ever step into a courtroom.

“The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission estimates that 75 percent of abuse incidents go unreported, yet “anywhere from 25 percent to 85 percent of women report having experienced sexual harassment in the workplace.” Many are deterred by fear of retaliation—three in four respondents feared being re-victimized, in other words, for speaking out. But the commission also stresses that forced arbitration works against the public interest “by requiring individuals to submit their claims to private arbiters rather than public courts,” and the ability to rely on forced arbitration “can also weaken an employer’s incentive to proactively comply with the law.” Both policies, non-disclosure and mandatory arbitration, drive consumers and workers into silence and powerlessness by keeping their cases out of court.”

According to NWLC Vice President for Workplace Justice Emily Martin, “Congress could act to prohibit employers from requiring mandatory arbitration of harassment and discrimination complaints.”

WREX reported that Forest City Rehab & Nursing Center nursing home was fined $25,000 after the state says the facility caused a resident’s death.  The first incident reported by the Illinois Department of Health says a female resident, who lived at Forest City Rehab & Nursing Center since 2001, got medications she wasn’t supposed to.  The report says she was given multiple opioids that were meant for other residents.  The report says the woman was unresponsive and needed Narcan after the opioids were given to her.

A physician ordered the facility to monitor her vital signs every hour, something the facility did not do, according to the report. The resident died one week later.

But Forest City Rehab and Nursing didn’t just get penalized because of that fatal error. The state says says the facility failed to take proper care of her after the incident happened. On top of that, the report says it failed to let the woman’s power of attorney know what happened. That power of attorney later told the state in that report, “I was called when (R1) went into hospice in April, but I have not received any calls from the facility since then.”

Forest City Rehab & Nursing Center is also facing punishment for another incident to a different resident. The IDPH report went on to say that resident fell, breaking  both his arms and legs. The reason the nursing home faces a penalty is because the report says two people were supposed to help that resident move, but only one did.

That resident told IDPH, “There was just one girl helping me and I told her my legs weren’t working and then down I came. There was no belt around my waist, they usually don’t use one. I don’t recall hitting anything on my way down. I was just weak that day. I broke both my arms and my legs.”

Click here to read the full report.

The Seattle Times reported the arrest of  Jacob King charged with three counts of rape related to raping two residents at a Massachusetts nursing home.  Police say the rapes happened while King worked as a nurse at Savoy Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in New Bedford. WPRI-TV reports King told police he was engaging in affairs and he “never forced” himself on the women.

 Court records show a complaint was filed with the state Board of Nursing.  King has been released on home confinement.

In an article from the University of Missouri News Bureau, Sheena Rice details a new federal report which reduced hospitalizations and saved Medicare thousands of dollars per person. Read an excerpt below:

Researchers from the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing are continuing to see success in their work to improve quality of care in nursing homes. In 2016, a federal report found that the Missouri Quality Initiative for Nursing Homes (MOQI) reduced potentially avoidable hospitalizations by 48 percent and reduced hospitalizations from all causes by 33 percent. This reduced total Medicare expenses by $1,376 per person, saving 33 percent of the costs of all-cause hospitalizations and 40 percent of potentially avoidable hospitalizations.

You can read the full report here.

Freelance Contribution by Karen Weeks

In older age, people often find themselves with an abundance of free time. What better to do with it then learn a fun new skill? With today’s technology, it’s easier than ever. Here are several skills seniors can add to their portfolio by taking just a few online courses.

Music

Whether you’re searching for the best online guitar lessons or how to play the piano, you’ll find you won’t be at a loss for videos that teach you all about playing an instrument online. Not only are there video guides, but there are games and music theory worksheets as well that will help you learn to read music and find the notes on your instrument of choice. It takes a lot of commitment to learn to play an instrument, but if you practice daily, it’s a skill that will bring joy to everyone around you.

Cooking 

If you’ve always wanted to cook like a pro, but never had the time to devote to the kitchen, there are an abundance of free videos and step-by-step instructions with visual aids online to help you achieve your goal. Several classes on Study.com “cover basic and advanced cooking techniques, including cooking meat, using herbs, working with seafood, creating sauces, assembling appetizers, cooking vegetables and using pastry dough.”

The best thing about learning to cook a particular recipe through a video is the fact that you can always rewind or pause it if you need more time before moving on to the next step. With the internet at your fingertips, you’ll also never be at a loss for ideas on new recipes to whip up.

Photography

Whether you’re wanting to unlock your camera’s full potential, take photos of the grandkids, or better document your next trip, there are several free online tutorials available to help you excel in photography. You’ll also find tips on how to compose your photos and utilize the right lighting, as well as the ins and outs of editing software like Photoshop. Make sure you have a camera and its manual handy before starting any courses because they might confuse you if you don’t have something to practice and follow along with.

Language

While speaking a foreign language may seem like quite the task, online computer programs like  Rosetta Stone allow you to listen, practice speaking it yourself as well as with other people from around the world, and see visual examples of how the language is used in the correct context. According to The Guardian, users are usually “able to pinpoint their specific needs, be that tailoring a classroom lesson to the interests of a particular age group, or learning the basics for a holiday abroad.” The way each lesson is set up, it often feels more like you’re playing a game than studying a new complex linguistic pattern. Additionally, though learning a language online will cost you, it affords you the opportunity to go at your own pace and difficulty setting.

In order to make the learning process easier and more entertaining, many of these skills can be picked up and shared with a group of friends. When in doubt, search the likes of YouTube to find a helpful video. You might even find that learning a new skill as a senior will keep your brain on its toes and increase your sense of fulfillment.

Danny Tyree at the Casper Star-Tribune had a wonderful editorial for those in nursing homes without friends and family to visit during the Holidays.  Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to everyone!

“At this festive time of year, it is good to remember those who will probably never again personally experience “city sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style.”

Individuals who are fortunate enough not to have close relatives in nursing homes may feel that they have “dodged a bullet” and can unashamedly concentrate on “me me me”; but visiting my mother-in-law at the nursing home over the last two years has humbled me and opened my eyes to opportunities for compassion.

Even if you don’t have blood relatives or in-laws who are shut-ins, you owe it to yourself to check out the patient directory at the nearest facility. You may find the sixth-grade teacher who helped you choose your mission in life, the kindly neighbor who gave you shelter those times you accidentally locked yourself out of your house, the coach who taught you the value of persistence, the beloved aunt of your childhood sweetheart…

 I realize that nursing homes are outside the comfort zone of many of us (“The smells! The moaning! The bodies that would no longer make the cover of ‘GQ’ or ‘Sports Illustrated’!”); but most of those patients went outside their own comfort zones many times leaving familiar surroundings to find a good job, traveling halfway around the world to fight for freedom, raising stepchildren who clung to memories of their “real” father/mother, marching for civil rights, etc.

The Christ child we celebrate at Christmas certainly came outside his comfort zone. He left the right hand of God, endured the aches and sorrows of the Human Condition and was mocked and crucified. He set a high standard for us.

We cheat ourselves when we let our hectic schedules push nursing home visits way down our priority list. We rush home to watch a History Channel documentary when we COULD learn about the Great Depression or the Korean War or the Apollo program from someone who was there. We make a mad dash to the bookstore to grab the latest romance novel instead of listening to a real live senior citizen reminisce about the person who was the light of their life for 50 years.

Certainly, the patients who suffer from glaucoma or osteoporosis or confinement to a wheelchair but who remain mentally alert are in need of reassurance, to handle the monotony, loneliness and challenges to their dignity. Even patients who have doting relatives will appreciate an extra visit.

Giving the gift of time to someone who can’t repay you in material things can be so much more rewarding than the obligatory ritual of handing a $20 Taco Bell gift card to the co-worker whom you know will reciprocate with a $20 Olive Garden gift card.

Nothing about this column is intended to limit your kindness to the holiday season. Trees and ornaments may be packed away, but the emotional needs remain.

I hope the holidays start you on a year-round program of tending to the vulnerable. It is a two-way gift that keeps on giving.”

U.S. News and other media outlets such as The Daily Mall have reported on the new report that shows an increase in medical doctors specializing in geriatric and nursing home care.  The findings were published Nov. 28 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.  This is great news considering the aging of the Baby Boomers. According to the UPenn study, there are more than 15,000 nursing homes across the country, with a total of about 1.7 million beds. But there are currently 74.9 million baby boomers between the ages of 51 and 69, according to the most recent data from the Pew Research Center.

The number of physicians and health care providers concentrating on nursing home patients grew by about one-third between 2012 and 2015, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine found.

Analyzing Medicare data, the researchers found that the number of doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants who were nursing home specialists rose from about 5,100 in 2012 to more than 6,800 in 2015 — about 34 percent.

The Sun Sentinel reported the disturbing story of a nursing home owner, Dr. Jack Michel, who was allowed to take over the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills even though he’d been hit with a $15.4 million fine years earlier to settle claims that he and others swindled Medicare and Medicaid.  Dr. Michel was a key figure in a civil suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice for massive health care fraud.

Incredibly, it is common practice in the health care industry to allow people and corporate entities found guilty of fraud to write checks to the U.S. government then continue operating nursing homes and participate in the very programs they were guilty of defrauding.  He had been accused by the government of taking kickbacks for hospitalizing elderly patients when they didn’t need to be hospitalized.

“Why was he allowed to take over the nursing home after having been accused in federal court of bilking Medicare and Medicaid?”

“A civil settlement with no admission of wrongdoing does not preclude purchasing a nursing home. There is no law or statute that precludes it,” Michel’s lawyers, Julie W. Allison and Geoff Smith, said.  “Many health care professionals — including those who have gone on to hold elective office — have served in companies that have settled claims with DOJ,” the attorneys said in the statement released to the Sun Sentinel. They were referring to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who founded HCA but left in 1997 in the midst of a federal investigation that led to a $1.7 billion health care fraud settlement.”

Michel and his companies agreed to five years of “special monitoring”, but were never expelled from participating in Medicaid or Medicare — a vital element to running a nursing home.

In fiscal 2007, the year of Michel’s settlement, the government barred more than 3,300 service providers from federal health insurance programs for misconduct, usually criminal, according to statistics from the U.S. Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Program. That same year it collected $1.8 billion in civil settlements. By fiscal 2016, it was up to $2.5 billion.  As of mid-November, the federal government had about 380 of these “Corporate Integrity Agreements” ongoing nationwide with hospitals, hospices, pharmaceutical firms, nursing homes, diagnostic imaging centers, doctors and others, according to the U.S. Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s web site.

Harvard health care Professor David Grabowski, who’s researched the economics of long-term care, said policy makers in Florida and other states should consider tightening the criteria for owning a nursing home, given the approval of Michel.