John O’Connor

Call it another shameful chapter in the history of nursing homes. But at least the finger isn’t being pointed at operators this time.

As crazy as this sounds, the daily personal needs allowance residents receive has not been raised a dollar since 1987. So the federal minimum remains at $30 a month. Or about a dollar a day. The consequences of this parsimony can be nothing short of heartbreaking.

It’s helpful that many states add to the $30, but even then it’s usually not much, and it doesn’t negate the fact that the federal minimum requirement has not been raised for more than 35 years. 

There ought to be a law, you say? Well, Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) did try enacting one in 2019. Her measure would have raised the allowance to a still paltry — but remarkably improved — $60 a month. Her colleagues were so moved by this act of basic decency that they didn’t even bother to hold a hearing.

So how well would you fare with a dollar a day to spend on things like shampoo and the occasional Diet Coke? Worse still, how would you fare if the facility you were living in deducted things that should be free from that amount? Which, by the way, is not exactly unheard of.

What’s clear about life in America to anyone who’s paying attention is that one’s status and treatment tend to have much in common. If you happen to be a deca-millionaire who carelessly deposited much more than the federally insured $250,000 in a bank run by howler monkeys, fear not. The feds — probably after receiving a few well-placed phone calls from those with the appropriate clout — will be more than happy to make sure every penny is safe.

Conversely, if you happen to be a low-status individual who borrowed money to pay for a semi-worthless college degree — and now you can’t meet the loan obligations because employment is elusive? That’s too bad, but in that case rules are rules. Time to buck up, buttercup.

Speaking of low status, nursing home residents on Medicaid must be some of the lowest of the low. After all, these are welfare recipients we’re talking about, right?

And therein lies their problem. You see, when you live on handouts, that’s what you get. And believe me, nobody with clout is terribly interested in making a well-placed phone call that might help make things better.

But maybe these residents should try to look on the bright side. After all, that can of Diet Coke will probably still be there next month.

John O’Connor is editorial director for McKnight’s.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.