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Orange County

Nursing Homes Seek State Relief

Caregivers, residents at Anaheim facility are among those appealing to Sacramento for legislation to boost staffing and services.

August 12, 2004|Erin Ailworth | Times Staff Writer

Caregivers, nursing home residents and their families urged state legislators Wednesday to support a bill to improve staffing and services at underfunded care facilities.

At least eight Orange County elder care facilities, among about 100 statewide, participated in the lobbying effort, highlighted by patients and caregivers staging "crisis drills" calling for the bill's passage by Aug. 31.

Such an exercise played out at the Anaheim Terrace Care Center, where administrative director Rey Pinoliar ushered his residents outside with a friendly announcement over the PA system.

"Attention, attention -- the nursing home crisis drill is now beginning," he said. "All available staff, residents and family members please report to the front of the building."

At the sound of an alarm, about 15 residents in wheelchairs and 40 staff members made their way outside, where several speakers rallied for the bill, AB 1629, with shouts of "No more excuses!" and "Fix nursing home funding now!"

Proposed by Assemblyman Dario J. Frommer (D-Los Angeles), the Nursing Home Quality Care Act would fund increased staffing and services.

The bill would change the way reimbursements are paid to nursing homes with Medi-Cal patients by strengthening accountability measures and capping certain overhead costs while redirecting money to additional patient services. The bill also would allow the state to tap into about $250 million in Medicaid matching funds by first having care providers pay a "quality assurance fee."

This bill, supporters say, is intended to fulfill the promise of AB 1075, which fell short in addressing the problem of underfunded nursing homes by transforming the Medi-Cal rate system.

Currently, about two-thirds of nursing home care costs are covered by Medi-Cal, according to the California United for Nursing Home Health Care, an advocacy coalition that organized the protest at Terrace Care. Facilities receive a flat fee -- an average of $118 a day per person -- for the care of Medi-Cal patients housed at nursing homes.

Four-year Terrace Care resident Mary Ann Clarke, 73, who received a multiple sclerosis diagnosis in 1984, said current Medi-Cal funding is insufficient. "We need more nurses," she said. "We need help to go to the bathroom -- all that stuff."

Clarke said that without adequate funding for nursing homes, people like her would have no place to go for the care they need. "We paid for this," she said, "and the funding should be here."

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