Arlene Violet: Two steps forward, one step back

By Arlene Violet
Posted 2/12/21

Nursing home residents are the major victims of the COVID pandemic. Nothing has highlighted the inadequacy of the nursing home system in Rhode Island and nationally then this epidemic. Some hope is …

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Arlene Violet: Two steps forward, one step back


Nursing home residents are the major victims of the COVID pandemic. Nothing has highlighted the inadequacy of the nursing home system in Rhode Island and nationally then this epidemic. Some hope is on the horizon for relief but yet another assault on their health has also emerged. Here is the good news and the bad news for RI nursing home residents.

The Rhode Island Senate passed legislation that would require nursing homes to provide 4.1 hours of direct care during a 24 hour period for every resident. Last year, then-Speaker Nick Mattiello sat on the bill. With the advent of the new speaker, Joe Shekarchi, chances improve that the legislation will pass. In order to implement the legislation, the legislature has to study and approve an increased reimbursement for Medicaid patients.

Rhode Island Republicans are also on the right track when the party embraced compassionate care advocacy for nursing home residents. In Sept. 2020, the CMS amplified the needs which would lead to having at least one advocate for the resident designated as the compassionate caregiver. This person would have access to the resident for at least a weekly visitation. Nothing is more important than to end the isolation and fear of abandonment that far too many residents experience. Further, nursing homes are unmonitored when outside family cannot see the care being given to their loved one.

Much more oversight must happen for the Rhode Island nursing homes. One CEO of some local as well as national nursing homes got a $5 million bonus while collecting multi-millions of dollars for “care” of the residents. Rhode Island has about 80 percent for-profits running nursing homes and the temptation to cut corners for shareholders is enormous. REIT companies have burgeoning portfolios filled with nursing homes along with private equity firms who then “lease” the home to landlords or management companies owned by them. It is long past time to establish rigorous oversight for this industry.

One step backward for nursing homes also became evident early this month with the seminal investigative piece done by Channel 10 I-Team reporter, Tamara Sacharczyk. Her report documented that while 80-90 percent of residents took the COVID vaccine inoculation, far less than 50 percent of staff did, with in one case, a staff rate of 16 percent. While 35 percent of nursing homes responded to her survey, others wouldn’t take her call or offer any comment. When the head of the Nursing Home Association was asked about the statistics he offered a weak "I hope they are educating the staff." This is hogwash. The ink is barely dry on the newest COVID study that inoculation also prevents the transmission of COVID. Education should be mandatory. The RI Department of Health, which stumbled at the gate when COVID first hit nursing homes, has got to get on top of the situation and mandate education of the staff and urge them to get the vaccine. Otherwise, the nursing homes where staffs are recalcitrant should be published on the RI Health Department website so families can make informed choices where a loved one should go.

With the passing of former Congressman Eddie Beard, we lost a good man who also was a fearless advocate for the elderly. Where is today’s Eddie Beard?

Arlene Violet is an attorney and former Rhode Island Attorney General.

Arlene Violet

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.