Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Nursing Homes: Investment Bonanza or Coming Disaster?

Few people want to think about nursing homes, either as necessary final residences for themselves or for their aging parents. In fact, nursing homes are seldom mentioned until advancing age brings statements such as, "I hope I never have to go to a nursing home" or "I'll never put [Mom or Dad] in a nursing home." Calling them "Care Centers" or downplaying them as sections of continuing care communities doesn't help much, either.

The reality is that as life spans increase, many of us will outlive our ability to care for ourselves, and perhaps the capabilities of our families as well--and some of us have no chldren to take on the caregiver role.

In the October 2, 2007, AFT [American Federation of Teachers] Retiree E-News, I encountered a disturbing article entitled "Wall Street Firms Buying Nursing Homes, Cutting Costs and Quality." Ronald Silva, president and CEO of Fillmore Capital Partners, which paid $1.8 billion last year to buy one of the country's largest nursing home chains, said that nursing homes will see "essentially unlimited consumer demand as baby boomers age," adding, "I've never seen a surer bet." And Charlene Harrington, a University of California - San Francisco professor who studies nursing homes, said, "The first thing owners do is lay off nurses and other staff that are essential to keeping patients safe. . . . Chains have made a lot of money by cutting nurses, but it's at the cost of human lives."

According to the article, nursing home chains owned by private investment groups before 2006 scored worse than national average rates in 12 of 14 care indicators, including preventable infections and bedsores. And the complex corporate structures established make it difficult for families to sue for patient abuse or neglect

As a childless, aging American whose mother died this year in a nursing home at age 95, despite the earlier heroic efforts of a grandson to care for her at home, I find this situation disturbing. Private investment is the American way, and yet we're talking about aging human beings here.

As I approach age 75, the reality is that I am likely to outlive my ability to care for myself, as my formerly healthy, active mother did. She died as a private patient at a relatively good nursing home not owned by an investment group, but even there, short staffing was a problem.

Should we seniors and baby boomers become just another investment bonanza, or is there a better way? What does the future hold?

Copyright 2007 by Marlys Marshall Styne

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