Calling the growing need for long-term care a "time bomb," the National Quality Forum last week announced the creation of a commission to explore ways to improve aging services.
The goal of the commission is fivefold: to recommend national goals to improve long-term care; report on long-term-care quality indicators and measures; provide a forum for public dialogue; review quality-related proposals; and recommend a national policy agenda.
Co-chaired by Bob Kerrey, a Democrat and former Nebraska senator and governor, and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, a Republican, the commission will have a total of 14 members though that number may increase later, said Ken Kizer, president and chief executive officer of the NQF and a commission member.
In announcing its creation in Washington, speakers said that as baby boomers approach retirement age, the demands on an already frayed aging-services system could soon reach a crisis level.
"In many ways, we're sitting on a demographic time bomb," Kizer said, adding that every day more than 1,000 Americans turn 65 and more than 10,000 turn 50.
The commission's creation comes amid intensified efforts by lawmakers and the healthcare industry to measure and report on healthcare quality. Much of the effort has been focused on hospitals, but as part of its broader initiative to make healthcare quality transparent to the public, the CMS in 2002 began requiring nursing homes participating in Medicare to submit quality data. The agency started posting the data on its Web site in November 2002. A year later, the CMS expanded that initiative to include home healthcare agencies.
Still, said Gingrich: "An enormous gap is growing between the quality of healthcare Americans could have and what many Americans are receiving from the current system. The quality gap is growing even more rapidly in senior healthcare services."
Part of the problem is a reluctance to talk about long-term-care issues because of the perception that facilities are no more than warehouses for the dying and the decrepit, speakers said last week.
"In some ways nursing homes have continued to be residual-care places for people that nobody wants to care for," said Monsignor Charles Fahey, a member of the commission and a professor emeritus of aging services at Fordham University in New York.
Stephen Guillard, CEO of Boston-based Harborside Healthcare, which operates 54 nursing homes nationwide, countered that despite its public image, nursing homes are doing a good job of caring for patients. He acknowledged, though, that there are areas for improvement, such as reducing infections and bed sores, and identifying best processes of care for patients. Guillard is also chairman of the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care, which is providing some funding for the commission.
The commission has scheduled its first meeting for Dec. 3, during which group members will decide how to proceed with their goals.