The Des Moines Register had a poignant editorial about Iowa politicians selling out vulnerable nursing home residents for nursing home lobbyists and other special interests.
At 5:30 p.m., on the evening of March 29, lobbyists with the Iowa nursing home industry are expected to host their annual reception for state lawmakers at the Embassy Suites in downtown Des Moines.
Last year, these same lobbyists spent more than $12,000 on such a reception. That was almost three times what they spent the previous year, although it’s hard to say what that money paid for since the lobbyists didn’t itemize the expenses on their public-disclosure report to the state.
But in addition to all of the food and drink, that money almost certainly bought the lobbyists a certain amount of — well, let’s call it “good will” — at the Statehouse. And if the Legislature’s actions this year are any indication, the $12,000 was money well spent.
Last month, industry lobbyists at the Iowa Healthcare Association successfully fought to kill legislation that would have improved care for Iowa seniors with Alzheimer’s disease. The bill in question would have required the employees of care facilities and home-care companies to demonstrate a basic level of understanding as to how they should care for people with dementia.
Many care facilities provide their workers with dementia-specific training. But as the lobbyist for the Alzheimer’s Association of Greater Iowa told lawmakers, there’s no follow-through to determine whether these caregivers understand the information they have been given, and the evidence from the state’s own inspectors indicates many of them don’t.
“Current dementia training isn’t working in this state,” Alzheimer’s Association lobbyist Noah Tabor said. “It’s not the fault of facilities, it’s not the fault of workers, it’s just not working.”
Industry lobbyists countered that if their member companies were required to provide better training for their workers, some would likely become discouraged and simply refuse to accept patients with dementia. This is the industry’s fall-back position on all proposed regulation: “Don’t make us do something we don’t want to do, or grandma will be left to fend for herself.”
In this case, industry lobbyists couldn’t very well oppose the concept of maintaining a well-educated staff to care for grandma, so they also tried to argue that they’re already providing workers with plenty of training and education. Of course, if that was actually the case, the proposed new law wouldn’t be imposing any new burdens on them — a point that Rep. Dave Heaton, a Mount Pleasant Republican, tried to make during a discussion of the bill.
“If you’re doing it, what’s the difference between this and what you’re doing?” he asked.
Heaton’s subcommittee sent the bill to the House Human Resources Committee, which promptly signaled its lack of interest in the matter and buried it. “There were a lot of things in the bill that made the industry uncomfortable,” Heaton said later.
Well, God forbid the Iowa nursing home industry should be made to feel uncomfortable.
Iowa has one of the oldest populations of any state in America. Is it really asking too much of our state legislators to establish a minimum level of expertise in caring for people with dementia?
Apparently, it is. The bill is considered dead, despite its support from the Alzheimer’s Association; the Iowa Caregivers Association; the Iowa Department on Aging; the Iowa Long-Term Care Ombudsman; the Iowa Association of Area Agencies on Aging; AARP of Iowa; and the Iowa Association of Counties.
Lawmakers should think about this when they line up for canapés at their industry-funded reception at the Embassy Suites. And they should think about the fact that the Alzheimer’s Association is a charity that doesn’t have the resources of the Iowa nursing home industry’s lobbyists, just one of whom has an annual compensation package worth $329,000.
They should reflect on the fact that when the Alzheimer’s Association last hosted a reception for lawmakers, they had to do so in the Statehouse rotunda with food that was donated by a few area grocery stores.
And then they should ask themselves which is the more unseemly course of action for a state lawmaker: Eating the free food that a tax-exempt charity had to collect by going hat-in-hand to local retailers, or doing the bidding of industry lobbyists who provide them with hors d’oeuvres and drinks at a downtown hotel?
Perhaps it doesn’t matter. After all, they clearly have no qualms about doing both.