House needs to pass Medicaid legislation for nursing home residents

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Alice Zahnow
Alice Zahnow

[Editor's Note: The House is scheduled to vote on a bill this week that would extend the increase in federal Medicaid funds, known as the federal medical assistance percentage (FMAP). The Senate has approved the package.]    

While looking over articles online I ran across a statement made by a patient that summed up the peril of millions of our elderly and disabled. He said, "They (referring to senators and representatives) need to live in this body." Short, sweet and directly to the point.

Our elderly and disabled are facing extended Medicaid funding cuts that could put the medical care they need in danger. Billions of dollars are on the cutting block to nursing homes, assisted living, home care, hospitals and physicians. The only obstacle between the quality care of our most vulnerable citizens and the security of obtaining these funds is the House. While focusing on our elderly and disabled we cannot exclude the concerns for the low- income families, schools and other community-based programs that receive help through Medicaid.

If these funds are not available to our states for Meals on Wheels, school lunches for low-income children, visiting nurses and doctors will become eliminated from state budgets. There are states right now that are anticipating the lack of funds and drawing up contingent plans for budget shortfalls. Governors are considering options such as eliminating benefits, reducing who is eligible, reducing payments to nursing homes, hospitals, physicians and possible tax increases—none of which are good. The American people can let the government know that it is time to stop playing around with the lives our family members. Each one of them deserves to live out their lives with dignity.

Residents' rights

Nursing homes are required to “care for the residents in such a manner and in such an environment as will promote maintenance or enhancement of the quality of life of each resident.” A new emphasis is placed on dignity, choice and self-determination for nursing home residents.     

How can nursing home continue to give the quality care when they will be faced with the kind of cuts they will need to make if the Medicaid funds are not available? We are already seeing nursing homes closing, programs being cut and frontline caregivers losing their jobs. Since home healthcare will also see these same cuts, clients' families will have to look at alternatives for the care of there loved ones, which is more expensive or cuts in the hours spent with each client.

Skilled nursing homes and assisted living will find it difficult to follow the guidelines OBRA (Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) set into place to protect our residents due to shortages of staff. It seems that our government has put the blinders back on when looking at our nation's most vulnerable citizens. It is time for them to set their priorities and a commitment that was given in 1987. Residents Rights must be followed to guarantee them the highest quality of life.

The nation is finally discovering that it can make a difference if we speak as one. As for myself, a certified nursing assistant, I am asking everyone to get involved with this fight. Someday you may be faced with having to put a loved one into a nursing home, assisted living or home healthcare. Help protect them by writing letters, call your representatives and spread the word to neighbors, strangers and relatives. Let's make sure the House passes this legislation and ensures the states the funds necessary for the vital programs needed by our vulnerable citizens.

Alice Zahnow is a freelance writer. From September 1990 to August 2008, Zahnow worked at Lapeer County Medical Care Facility in Michigan as a certified nursing assistant.

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