Oklahoma nursing home providers worry about pay cuts following the untimely death of a cigarette fee

OKLAHOMA — After the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled in mid-August that a $1.50-per-pack “fee” on cigarettes was a tax, the state is facing a $215 million shortfall.

Lawmakers had approved a “smoking cessation fee” that would have pumped money into the 2018 budget. But the court said the measure was unconstitutional since the state has strict laws on how taxes can be passed, such as requiring a three-quarters majority to agree.

That worries healthcare providers, who said the money would have put $75 million into the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, $70 million into the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (the state’s Medicaid agency), and $69 million into the Department of Human Services.

Nico Gomez, president and Chief Executive Officer of the Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers, said any cuts to Medicaid could devastate nursing homes.

He told McKnight’s that a 5% cut could put 120 out of 300 facilities at serious financial risk. 

“Our concern and our call is for the governor and Legislature to repair it as soon as possible,’ he said. “We want them to fulfill the promise they made to our residents.”

There’s no expectation of any sort of Medicaid pay rate increase, but a hope to avoid cuts, he said.


Facility ordered closed

Ohio — A nursing home that kept the most sex offenders of any facility in the state was ordered to close in August.

Bryden Place in Columbus had received 80 different citations for health and safety violations over six months, including for inadequate medical care, unsanitary living conditions and neglect. It had been fined $285,000 since May 1. 

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services terminated its participation in the programs because of “repeated evidence of substandard quality of care,” and ordered residents moved by the end of the month. The state revoked the operating license on July 21.

As of early August, 16 residents were left at the 147-bed facility, which at one time had housed the highest concentration of sex offenders among Ohio nursing homes. It was the sixth central Ohio nursing home to lose its CMS participation in four years, the Columbus Dispatch reported.

Former home demolition

Wisconsin — A former county nursing home will be demolished rather than renovated, the Rock County Board in Janesville voted in mid-August.

The demolition will cost $1 million, but an estimated renovation was expected to cost $18 million, according to local reports. 

The building was constructed in 1962 and included tunnels connecting it to the healthcare center. It has been vacant since 2013 due to a new county nursing home debuting in 2012.


Legionnaires’ investigated

New York — Water samples at a Syracuse, NY, nursing home tested positive for Legionnaires’ disease in August, following two confirmed cases, state health officials said.

The state health department visited James Square Health and Rehabilitation Centre and asked it to provide alternate supplies of water to residents after the samples came back positive.

The nursing home was treating the water system with hyperchlorination and installing filters, according to local reports. 

Around 6,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported in the U.S. in 2015. Two other area nursing homes found Legionella in their water systems last year, leading to the imposition of water restrictions.

Harassment fine upheld

Pennsylvania — A man convicted of threatening a nursing home has lost another round in court.

A Pennsylvania state appeals court panel declined to void the harassment conviction of Jerome S. LaGreca, 56. He called an HCR ManorCare facility in 2014, and spent more than a half hour yelling at a nurse’s aide, authorities said. His mother, a resident, had complained about the staff.

In addition to expletives, LaGreca said he would physically push staff and mentioned he might “shoot up ManorCare.” 

The aide reported the incident to Bethlehem police and LaGreca was arrested. LaGreca said he did not make any threats and appealed, saying there was no proof he threatened or harassed anyone.

However, in Judge Carl A. Solano’s Superior Court opinion, he wrote that there was enough evidence to support the conviction and the $100 fine. 


Voting bill killed

Texas — Texas lawmakers rescinded their efforts to improve voting procedures for nursing home residents in August.

They had originally voted to allow election judges to deliver absentee ballots to nursing and other care facilities for residents. The facilities would be designated as polling places, in an effort to discourage political representatives from trying to persuade residents to vote a certain way.

The legislation passed and was signed by Gov. Jim Abbott (R) in June. He tweeted ahead of the vote that the bill was “targeting voter fraud at nursing homes” and that “seniors’ votes shouldn’t be stolen.” It was slated to take effect Sept. 1.

Afterwards some Republican lawmakers called the bill’s initial passage an “oversight.” An amendment to repeal the law was attached to a bill concerning voter fraud, and approved in an 89-48 vote.

Rep. Craig Goldman (R-Fort Worth), the lawmaker who kickstarted the move to repeal the bill, said he had fielded concerns about it from election judges who said overseeing voting in nursing homes would use up their resources.


Medicaid director criticized

Mississippi — Uncovered emails indicate the state’s Medicaid director was offered a job by a company that later received a state contract.

Medicaid Director David Dzielak was asked by Molina Healthcare to help it find candidates for leadership positions a year before the company received the contract for Mississippi’s managed care plan, according to the Clarion Ledger. 

The emails were uncovered as part of a lawsuit filed by losing bidders on the Medicaid contract. Those companies say that Molina eventually offering Dzielak a job created a conflict of interest.

Additionally, the emails indicate the salary and benefit details the company would provide if it won the billion-dollar contract.

Dzielak says, however, that the emails were about a Medicaid director position opening in another state, the paper reported. 

Nursing home gives back California — A Lodi facility, inspired by a documentary, has created a new volunteer program that encourages resident participation in a program that helps the less fortunate.

The Vienna Resident Council’s “Serving Smiles” program included preparing a meal for the Salvation Army’s Women Helping Women group. 

Thirty residents rose early to get the meal ready, which will become a monthly event. In addition, seven residents were chosen to serve the meal at the local Salvation Army.