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Illinois lawmakers, advocates discuss demand for nursing home reform

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9.22 NURSING HOME PIC

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The pandemic continues to take a tremendous toll on residents and staff in nursing homes. But, the experience became even worse for some patients who only needed rehab services.

Deborah Williams was one of the advocates speaking to Illinois lawmakers during a hearing Wednesday morning. She explained that her mother-in-law needed help after having a stroke. However, her family never expected her to stay there permanently. Williams stressed that some families could care for their loved ones at home and only need assistance with rehabilitation services.

Yet, her mother-in-law is still in the facility over a year later and doesn't receive proper rehab services. Williams said staff recently told her family that they have to pay even more to have someone spend 15 minutes each day doing rehab exercises with her loved one.

"We also want the care plan to be in the facility readily available because there is a lot of turnover in nursing homes," Williams said. "And we want to make sure that each new nurse that comes in to tend to her knows exactly what plans and what services she should be getting."

Williams said nursing homes should stop the one-size-fits-all approach for residents during the pandemic. She also said facilities should allow more than one family member to see their loved ones, especially if they have larger families. Still, Williams stressed that patients and loved ones shouldn't have to contact state lawmakers to see necessary change.

Collins: Distribute funding to every nursing home and pay employees better

Of course, nursing homes dealt with many issues before the COVID-19 pandemic started. The pandemic brought even more problems into the spotlight such as lack of care for some patients. As a result, state lawmakers continue to host hearings to ask what departments, industry leaders, and families think could help.

Lawmakers and advocates say people in nursing homes should receive the best quality care regardless of their zip code. Although, many feel the state can't address that without proper funding for every nursing home and the employees who work there.

The Health Care Council of Illinois argued more money could solve some of the issues in homes. Still, Rep. Lakesia Collins (D-Chicago) said the state should distribute that funding properly.

Collins worked in a nursing home for 11 years and represented workers as part of the union before becoming a lawmaker. She says employees expect to be paid better than poverty wages after helping dozens of patients during each shift.

"I want us to talk about the real raw truth about what's happening in these facilities and come to reality. Just say we messed up and we continue to mismanage the money," Collins said. "So what do we do now as all stakeholders to move forward to really reform this industry?"

Collins says no one should suffer in a space they stay in for the final years of their lives. However, she stressed that many residents currently feel like they're in prison.

"Allow loved ones in to see those people"

Rep. Dan Ugaste (R-Geneva) said his wife lost both of her parents, who lived in a nursing home, during the pandemic. Ugaste noted that his family only saw his mother-in-law virtually. He pleaded with state officials to have better plans in place to allow family members to see their loved ones in person.

"I know that you have to worry about everyone in the facility," Ugaste said. "But I think we need to find a way to allow loved ones in to see those people. I say this because I have seen what my wife and my family went through over the past year. We could talk over the phone and FaceTime with her, but she didn't understand what was going on. She was in declining health and all she thought about was her family forgot about her."

Ugaste said the state should prevent that type of situation from ever happening again.

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Mike Miletich

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