Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) proposed expanding federal authority to punish negligent nursing homes and instituting criminal background checks of nursing home workers in what would be the first-ever comprehensive federal effort to address abuse of the elderly and other crimes against seniors.
Breaux, chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, provided an outline of his plan but said legislation has yet to be drafted and costs have not been estimated.
From 500,000 to 5 million seniors are abused in the U.S. each year, but 84% of cases are never reported, Breaux said. While the federal government spends $520 million annually on efforts against abuse of women and $6.7 billion annually against child abuse, it devotes only $153.5 million to programs addressing abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly, he said.
At a media briefing today, Breaux said he expects his plan to carry a lower price tag than U.S. efforts against child abuse. “We don’t want to add to bureaucracy,” he said.
Under Breaux’s proposal, nursing homes would be required to immediately report to law enforcement any victimization of residents. All employees and contractors of federally funded long-term-care providers would have to pass FBI national criminal background checks. Facilities would be required to give 60 days’ notice of closures and ensure the proper relocation of all residents.
The proposal also would create a new federal “cause of action” authorizing the Justice Department to pursue criminal and civil cases where abuse or neglect of residents results in serious harm.
The security crackdown would be complemented by new federal funding, including grants and tax incentives, to bolster recruitment and training of nursing home workers and provide technical assistance for management practices that reduce turnover.
Breaux said that while developing his plan he found not a single federal employee responsible solely for elder abuse issues. Under his plan, dual “Offices of Elder Justice” at HHS and the Justice Department would be created to handle policy, program and grant-making concerns, and a private-public council would coordinate activities among federal agencies, states and local organizations.
As part of the retention effort, long-term-care workers remaining in the field for more than five years would be eligible for loan forgiveness, tax incentives and bonuses. In addition, the plan would subsidize continuing education and the development of career ladders with accompanying wage increases or benefit packages.
Suzanne Weiss, senior vice president of advocacy at the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, Washington, said the industry group approved of the proposal in concept, but until a bill is drafted, “it’s all speculative at this point.”
Among her concerns are whether 60 days’ notice of closure is feasible for homes in desperate financial straits and whether the proposed criminal penalties duplicate existing sanctions. Better enforcement of existing laws, rather than new sanctions, may be what’s needed, Weiss said.