We are all aware of the critical state of affairs and lack of funding for Oklahoma schools, but did you know that similar problems abound in Oklahoma’s nursing homes? Have you ever had a family member that required care in a nursing facility? Did you ever have to make the decision to transfer the 24-hour care of your frail and vulnerable loved one into the hands of others? When that time comes, you want assurance that your loved one will be safe and well cared for.

In Oklahoma, you can indeed find some good nursing homes, but like public schools, nursing facilities suffer the inevitable stress of decades of unintentional public neglect. Like public schools, nursing facilities that provide care for residents covered by Medicaid and Medicare rely significantly upon public funding and are governed by state and federal regulation. Over 70% of all Oklahomans residing in nursing homes are on Medicaid. Oklahoma ranks second worst in the nation for nursing home funding and are second worst in U.S. rankings on all quality measures.

An unprecedented coalition of advocates for Oklahoma seniors has joined forces to improve the quality of care in Oklahoma’s nursing facilities. AARP, the Alzheimer’s Association, the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature and a united community of nursing home operators and employees is moving two related bills through the Oklahoma Legislature: House Bill 1902 and Senate Bill 280.

These bills will ensure that Oklahoma significantly improves resident outcomes and national rankings by requiring meaningful, ongoing quality improvement measures, accountability and transparency by nursing facilities and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority. The state price tag to implement this law is low, the expected improvement in outcomes is tremendous. Additional new state funding of only $13 million will bring sweeping reforms, returning nearly $22 million additional federal dollars in matching funds to improve Oklahoma nursing home care.

Oklahoma’s nursing homes, in turn, will be required to implement the greatest quality improvement reform plan in decades. The two bills require documented improvements in federally defined quality measures, increased direct care staffing and additional mandatory training.

Oklahoma has one of the lowest life expectancy rates in the nation. By passing and funding the Nursing Home Quality Assurance Initiative we can fundamentally and dramatically improve the course of life for all Oklahoma families. The Legislature and our governor need to hear from Oklahomans on this matter today. Who else can speak up for the silent and vulnerable but us?

Bill Pierce is president of Baptist Village Communities. Nathan Purify is campus director of Baptist Village of Owasso.

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Editorial Pages Editor

Wayne is the editorial pages editor of the Tulsa World and a political columnist. A fourth-generation Oklahoman, he previously served as the World’s city editor for 13 years and as a reporter at the state Capitol of four years. Phone: 918-581-8308