The L.A. Times had an article about finding a good nursing home for a loved one. The article refers to Eric Carlson, a Los Angeles attorney with Justice in Aging, a national organization that works to fight poverty among seniors. Carlson wrote “20 Common Nursing Home Problems and How to Resolve Them,” a consumer guide available free at www.justiceinaging.org.
Carlson and other experts highlight a few of the common problems faced by nursing home residents and their families.
Medicaid discrimination. Nursing homes rely heavily on reimbursement from Medi-Cal, California’s health insurance program for people with low incomes. The vast majority of facilities are Medi-Cal certified, meaning that they accept its reimbursement. In California, about two-thirds of nursing home residents have all or part of their costs paid for by the Medi-Cal program, according to statistics from the California Assn. of Health Facilities. But because Medi-Cal pays lower rates than most other sources of reimbursement, advocates say patients often receive second-class treatment.
“You’re more likely to get very low-level custodial care” when covered by Medi-Cal, Carlson says.
Nursing home staff may tell you that Medi-Cal doesn’t pay for certain types of care, such as rehabilitative services, Carlson says. But if the facility is Medi-Cal certified and the care is medically necessary, it is required to provide it.
Poor care planning. “The biggest complaint we get is the plain lack of care, not letting families get involved in the care planning and not following the care plan,” McGinnis says.
In addition, both the patient and his or her family have a right to be involved in deciding what kind of care will be delivered. Despite that, families are often iced out of the process, Carlson says.
Refusing to readmit after hospitalization. When Medi-Cal-funded nursing home residents are sent to the hospital for treatment, their beds must be held for seven days, during which time the home continues to be paid by Medi-Cal.
Instead, many nursing homes simply refuse to take the patients back — with the hope of replacing them with higher-paying patients. Nursing homes, McGinnis says, would much prefer to have Medicare rehab patients because they may get paid as much as $600 a day compared with an average of $186 a day from Medi-Cal.
Fight back. Free support is available to families who need help getting the care to which they’re entitled.
The California State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program works with patients and families to identify and investigate complaints: Call 800-334-9473, or contact the California Department on Aging at www.aging.ca.gov
California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform provides legal assistance, and its website,www.canhr.org, has a host of consumer fact sheets and other free resources.
Carlson says families get better care when they know their rights and speak up.
“Stand up for yourself,” he says. Doing so will not only help you and your loved ones, Carlson says: “You’re benefiting the whole system.”