Before the 2019 Legislature fades from memory, we should note the important steps it took to improve nursing home quality for thousands of Oklahomans.
The state’s nursing home metrics are shameful. Oklahoma leads the nation in the portion of its nursing home population being treated with antipsychotic drugs, despite never being diagnosed as psychotic. Only one state has a higher portion of its high-risk nursing home patients with pressure sores.
Nursing home owners say they want to do better, but the state’s Medicaid reimbursement rates won’t allow them to do so. In fact, they say, many Oklahoma nursing homes are on the cusp of closing because the Medicaid rates won’t cover their costs.
Senate Bill 280 — which passed the Legislature with only one “no” vote — directs the state Medicaid program to use $20.7 million to improve incentive payments to nursing homes.
In exchange for the money, nursing homes agree to more oversight, including more long-term care ombudsmen and an advisory group to help determine how pay-for-performance incentives will be directed. The legislation targets improvements in long-term, high-risk patients who develop pressure sores, lose too much weight, develop urinary infections or receive antipsychotic drugs.
The nursing homes also agree to require clinical employees to receive at least four hours of Alzheimer’s or dementia training and to allow the Medicaid residents to keep $75 a month of their Medicaid funding for personal needs. The previous mandate was $50 a month.
Oklahoma’s nursing homes are in troubling shape, and no one knows that better than the people who are in charge of them.
“It is going to impact directly and improve quality of care and the standard of living in nursing homes,” said Nico Gomez, president and CEO of the Oklahoma Association of Health Care Providers. “It will also be a stabilizing force that prevents future home closures, which are enormously disruptive to the lives of our residents and to rural communities. We are immensely grateful to the Legislature and to Gov. Stitt for making this investment.”
Like a lot of things, money alone won’t fix Oklahoma’s nursing homes, but there are no solutions that don’t involve money. SB 280 is expensive, but there could be no more important priority than making sure elderly Oklahomans who cannot care for themselves are treated safely and humanely.