Special Reports

Advocate wants Beshear to take emergency action on care homes

After the death of a personal care home resident who was brain-injured and a state ward, a leading advocate is calling on Gov. Steve Beshear to take emergency action to address the lack of staffing requirements for long-term care facilities.

Bernie Vonderheide, founder of Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, said he is asking Beshear to call an emergency session of the General Assembly or to issue an emergency executive order to establish minimum staff-to-resident ratios for all long-term care homes, including personal care homes and nursing homes.

Kerri Richardson, a spokeswoman for Beshear, said in response that a "special session must last a minimum of five days, at a cost of at least $300,000 — so any special session should be called only when consensus has been reached on a particular issue."

She said "this subject is best suited for thorough review and debate during the upcoming regular session to begin in January."

Larry Lee, 32, of Lebanon, was found dead Saturday, a month after he disappeared from Falmouth Nursing Home, a personal care home in Pendleton County. Police don't suspect foul play, but a cause of death was not immediately determined.

The state classified the home as a personal care home rather than a nursing home.

Personal care homes provide long-term care for people who do not need full-time nursing home care but need some assistance. Residents of personal care homes often have mental disabilities or mental illnesses and have nowhere else to go.

Lee's funeral was Thursday.

Lee's sister has said that on a visit to the personal care home after Lee went missing, she found one staff member overseeing more than two dozen residents. Falmouth Nursing Home officials have declined to comment.

While Lee was missing, two legislators from his hometown drove to Falmouth to search and briefly see the personal care home. One of them, Republican Sen. Jimmy Higdon, said earlier this week that it's likely he will file legislation to address staff-to-resident ratios and other problems. Current state administrative regulations regarding personal care homes are not specific, requiring only that staff be based on the number of patients and that supervision meet the needs of the residents.

One attendant must be awake and on duty on each floor at all times.

Rep. Terry Mills, a Democrat, said earlier this week that he thinks the General Assembly should "take a hard look" at staffing ratios for all long-term care facilities, including nursing homes that provide more skilled care than personal care homes.

For nursing homes, neither federal nor state requirements provide for specific staffing ratios, according to Jill Midkiff, a spokeswoman for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

Last fall, Beshear directed the immediate implementation of 20 recommendations from a review by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to improve the process of reporting abuse and neglect at long-term care facilities. But those recommendations didn't address staffing.

Vonderheide said legislation that would require minimum staffing standards has been introduced several times in the legislature since 2002, "but so far, the measure has met little or no support."

Vonderheide said that's because nursing home industry officials give money to the political campaigns of lawmakers and gubernatorial candidates.

"It's the intense pressure — translated money — that the nursing home industry has used to keep the bill from even getting out of committee," he said.

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