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Brewster gives his support to care home reform bills in state Senate

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 5:26 a.m.

State Sen. James Brewster, D-McKeesport, is supporting a colleague's bid to reform the nursing home business.

The Pennsylvania Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes, said bills by Sen. Matt Smith, D-Mt. Lebanon, would not apply to personal care homes such as the now-closed Liberty Manor facility.

“A skilled nursing center is a 24/7 medical facility,” PHCA spokeswoman Alison Everett said. “A personal care home is just that, a place that provides personal care such as help with bathing or dressing but not medical care.”

While the state Department of Health regulates skilled nursing centers, the Department of Public Welfare governs personal care homes.

Still, Brewster applauded Smith's Senate Bills 625 and 626, “in light of what has happened, not just in Liberty but all around the state.”

SB 625 would require nursing homes to report turnover and staffing levels to the health department.

SB 626 would require the homes to spend a minimum amount of their Medicaid resident care per-diem rate.

Brewster said he is preparing a bill to require a thorough background check for those hired to work in any center caring for the elderly.

He recalled a May 2012 incident in which a 71-year-old woman was raped in an assisted living facility in Ambridge, allegedly by a 51-year-old employee.

“I had 60-70 co-sponsors as of (Wednesday),” Brewster said. “You are going to see more and more need for these kinds of places and most of them do a wonderful job. We need to look at these organizations and regulate them in a fair way to help our seniors.”

Everett and PHCA CEO Stuart H. Shapiro were responding to Smith's bills as well as to a report issued by the Service Employees International Union's SEIU Healthcare PA.

SEIU said nearly one in three skilled nursing facilities failed to spend all of the state funding intended for residents on actual care. PHCA said such centers are paid far less than the actual cost of care for residents on Medicaid.

“Many of the state's nursing homes that serve a high population of Medicaid residents are teetering on fiscal ruin,” Shapiro said.

Since 2010, the PHCA CEO said, Pennsylvania nursing homes have had their Medicare payments cut by almost $400 million.

Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1967, or pcloonan@tribweb.com.

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