Crisis in nursing home industry

At one time, the most common worry among grown children was whether their elderly parents would receive loving, professional care in a nursing home.

Now, they must worry whether that nursing home is going to be open tomorrow.

As reported by Associated Press writer Brendan Riley in Saturday's Nevada Appeal, Nevada and New Mexico share a disturbing distinction: They have the nation's highest rate for bankruptcies among chain-owned nursing homes. Almost half have filed for protection in the courts.

The biggest target for finger-pointing is Medicare, which saw $15 billion in cuts reaching back to 1997. Those numbers are beginning to take a toll on the industry.

The American Health Care Association is trying to get that money restored. Congress contributed $1.7 billion last year, but the industry says that's not enough.

However, the chairman of the Senate's Special Committee on Aging, Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, isn't ready to take their word for it. He would like to see a federal analysis of the nursing-home industry to find out where the money is going.

We suspect that he would find corporate takeovers have put a new focus on the bottom line. While the people who work at nursing homes are often the most compassionate, dedicated people, we doubt that attitude carries all the way to the board room.

At Cottonwood Care Center, later called Valley Meadowsn, in Carson Valley, the employees were willing to step in and try to keep the place open. Did they have dollars signs in their eyes? No. What they saw were the faces of people who needed their care. Alas, Cottonwood was forced to close under the weight of past management decisions.

Like the residents of Cottonwood last fall, a staggering 175,000 elderly face an uncertain future. Some 1,651 facilities have filed for bankruptcy protection.

Between Congress and corporate owners, the elderly and the employees of nursing homes are caught in the middle. We agree with Grassley that a thorough audit is necessary - before throwing more money at a problem without knowing where it goes.


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