Beshear to study nursing-home staffing minimums, suggests homes' high liability costs are related to poorly ranked care

Responding to a letter from Kentuckians for Nursing Home Reform, which cited a low ranking for the state's nursing homes, Gov. Steve Beshear said he is "committed to taking steps toward improving the quality of care in Kentucky nursing homes," Valarie Honeycutt Spears reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Beshear said he would call for forums across the state to allow the public and nursing-home residents to discuss their ideas for improvement, and would research the impacts of increased staffing in nursing homes. The reform group wants minimum staffing requirements, which the nursing-home industry opposes.

"I take this challenge very seriously and will be working with my staff and the state's Elder Abuse Committee over the coming months to explore ways in which we can improve the quality of care," the governor said in a Nov. 5 letter to Bernie Vonderheide, founder of the nursing-home reform group.

Vonderheide wrote Beshear in August after Kentucky was ranked 40th in nursing-home care by Families for Better Care, a Florida-based advocacy group for nursing-home residents. On a grade scale of A to F, the group gave Kentucky a D. The grade was determined by analyzing eight federal measures of nursing home quality, according to the group's release.

Beshear suggested in his letter that the low ranking of Kentucky's nursing homes might be related to another of their lobbying concerns — liability costs that are well above national norms. The homes want to limit those costs by subjecting lawsuits against them to medical review panels, which couldn't block the suits but would give the homes leverage in settlement negotiations.

The governor said "a trend emerges" when the low ranking is matched with an actuarial report showing that a typical 100-bed nursing home in Kentucky has annual liability costs of $535,000, while the national average is $154,000. Kentucky was among the states with high liability costs that received a below average or failing grade on the Families for Better Care report, Beshear noted.

Vonderheide said the letter marked "the first time . . . that a Kentucky governor has embraced nursing home staffing standards." Actually, as Spears reports, Beshear "said he would ask program leaders from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to research the impact that increasing nursing home staffing could have in Kentucky." (Read more)

The Herald-Leader said in an editorial on the issue, "Listening, exploring, collecting information and ideas must lead — quickly — to action."
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