Thursday, October 2, 2014
Naomi Cahn, our colleague at GW Law who frequently alerts us to interesting stories, sent me a note about this recent story from the Washington Post on suicide tourism. Tourism to Switzerland for assisted suicide is growing, often for nonfatal diseases reports on an ongoing study in Switzerland that shows an increases in tourists in the Zurich area seeking assisted suicide.
The study, on "Suicide Tourism", was reported in the Journal of Medical Ethics. The August volume contains the article about the study: Suicide tourism: a pilot study on the Swiss phenomenon. The full article requires purchase (or subscription) but the abstract of the article is available and summarizes the article:
While assisted suicide (AS) is strictly restricted in many countries, it is not clearly regulated by law in Switzerland. This imbalance leads to an influx of people—‘suicide tourists’—coming to Switzerland, mainly to the Canton of Zurich, for the sole purpose of committing suicide. Political debate regarding ‘suicide tourism’ is taking place in many countries. Swiss medicolegal experts are confronted with these cases almost daily, which prompted our scientific investigation of the phenomenon. The present study has three aims: (1) to determine selected details about AS in the study group (age, gender and country of residence of the suicide tourists, the organisation involved, the ingested substance leading to death and any diseases that were the main reason for AS); (2) to find out the countries from which suicide tourists come and to review existing laws in the top three in order to test the hypothesis that suicide tourism leads to the amendment of existing regulations in foreign countries; and (3) to compare our results with those of earlier studies in Zurich. We did a retrospective data analysis of the Zurich Institute of Legal Medicine database on AS of non-Swiss residents in the last 5 years (2008–2012), and internet research for current legislation and political debate in the three foreign countries most concerned. We analysed 611 cases from 31 countries all over the world. Non-terminal conditions such as neurological and rheumatic diseases are increasing among suicide tourists. The unique phenomenon of suicide tourism in Switzerland may indeed result in the amendment or supplementary guidelines to existing regulations in foreign countries.
The Washington Post story discusses some possibilities for individuals seeking assisted suicide when they are not terminal; traveling while they are still able and having a terminal condition but not yet in the terminal phase were two of the reasons mentioned in the story. The Post story was produced by NewScientist and is also available here.
Tourism to Switzerland for assisted suicide is growing, often for nonfatal diseases
Wednesday, October 1, 2014
A few days ago I blogged about an article in The Atlantic explaining one person's thinking of 75 being his optimal "old age". In that same issue of The Atlantic is another article--about longevity and 100 year olds--what it will mean for society as more of us reach that age. What Happens When We All Live to 100? was published on September 17, 2014.
The article starts with a history of sorts of life expectancies from human origins and notes that
Viewed globally, the lengthening of life spans seems independent of any single, specific event. It didn’t accelerate much as antibiotics and vaccines became common. Nor did it retreat much during wars or disease outbreaks. A graph of global life expectancy over time looks like an escalator rising smoothly. The trend holds, in most years, in individual nations rich and poor; the whole world is riding the escalator.
Projections of ever-longer life spans assume no incredible medical discoveries—rather, that the escalator ride simply continues. If anti-aging drugs or genetic therapies are found, the climb could accelerate. Centenarians may become the norm, rather than rarities who generate a headline in the local newspaper.
The article then moves to a discussion of those institutions intentionally working on increasing life spans, the Buck Institute, the U of Michigan, the U of Texas, UC-San Francisco, and the Mayo Clinic for example. Long-term readers of this blog may also remember a post about CALICO (Google's "spin-off called the California Life Company (known as Calico) to specialize in longevity research."). The article has a fascinating section about the research being done, including some interesting consideration of other life forms that excel in longevity (worm genes, anyone?).
I particular enjoyed reading the quote of one of the leaders in the field in describing the nascent nature of the research. "'[M]edically, we do not know what ‘age’ is. The sole means to determine age is by asking for date of birth. That’s what a basic level this research still is at.'” There seems to be some debate amongst the experts about whether life expectancy will continue to rise at the steady escalator-smooth rate as in years past. The article also mentions some of the theories advanced over time on increasingly longevity: vitamins, low calorie diets, education, exercise, etc.
One section of the article bears significant possibilities for class discussion, the political implications of an older society.
Society is dominated by the old—old political leaders, old judges. With each passing year, as longevity increases, the intergenerational imbalance worsens. The old demand benefits for which the young must pay, while people in their 20s become disenchanted, feeling that the deck is stacked against them. National debt increases at an alarming rate. Innovation and fresh thinking disappear as energies are devoted to defending current pie-slicing arrangements.
The author reveals this is a description of what is actually occurring in Japan. Consider as the author does, what increased longevity may also do to the judicial branch--especially the Supreme Court with lifetime appointments.
This article may be viewed as a bit of a wake-up alarm, although I suspect many of the folks in the US will just hit the snooze button
People’s retirement savings simply must increase, though this means financial self-discipline, which Americans are not known for. Beyond that, most individuals will likely need to take a new view of what retirement should be: not a toggle switch—no work at all, after years of full-time labor—but a continuum on which a person gradually downshifts to half-time, then to working now and then. Let’s call it the “retirement track” rather than retirement: a phase of continuing to earn and save as full-time work winds down.
Widespread adoption of a retirement track would necessitate changes in public policy and in employers’ attitudes. Banks don’t think in terms of smallish loans to help a person in the second half of life start a home-based business, but such lending might be vital to a graying population. Many employers are required to continue offering health insurance to those who stay on the job past 65, even though they are eligible for Medicare. Employers’ premiums for these workers are much higher than for young workers, which means employers may have a logical reason to want anyone past 65 off the payroll. Ending this requirement would make seniors more attractive to employers.
Back to the reasons for increasing longevity. One in the list above, education, seems to have a solid correlation and maybe not as obvious as other reasons that come to mind (vaccines, antibiotics, improved health care, public services, etc.). The author considers the role of education in longevity and examining budget cuts by states, suggests
Many of the social developments that improve longevity—better sanitation, less pollution, improved emergency rooms—are provided to all on an egalitarian basis. But today’s public high schools are dreadful in many inner-city areas, and broadly across states ... Legislatures are cutting support for public universities, while the cost of higher education rises faster than inflation. These issues are discussed in terms of fairness; perhaps health should be added as a concern in the debate. If education is the trump card of longevity, the top quintile may pull away from the rest
The last section of the article hypothesizes on the impact of an aging society if the escalator continues its ascent, achieving perhaps a "grey utopia" of sorts. The article is well worth reading, but it makes me think about how society values, or devalues, aging. Is getting old a challenge or disease to be conquered? For example, the author writes, "[i]f the passage of time itself turns out to be the challenge, interdisciplinary study of aging might overtake the disease-by-disease approach. As recently as a generation ago, it would have seemed totally crazy to suppose that aging could be “cured.” Now curing aging seems, well, only somewhat crazy." Read this article and have your students read it, too.
Thursday, September 25, 2014
Families for Better Care recently released a report card to grade states on nursing homes. Check it out to see if your state gets a passing grade! Families for Better Care is a Florida-based "non-profit citizens advocacy group" devoted to "creating public awareness of the conditions in our nation’s nursing homes and other long-term care settings and developing effective solutions for improving quality of life and care."
Their Nursing Home Report Cards is a "project that analyzes, compares and ranks state’s nursing home quality." The website allows a user to look at overall grades for states in various categories as well look at a specific ranking for a state that includes key findings, grade and rank for 2014 compared to 2013. There is also an interactive map that allows the user to quickly look at a state's "grade." The website also includes a list of the top states and the worst states.
Check it out.
Wednesday, September 24, 2014
In the Washington Post, Columnist Michelle Singletary warns that "Reverse Mortgages Must be Understood to Avoid Regrets." One of the points of her column is that reverse mortgages may not be the most cost-effective plan for aging.
I've begun to worry that the problem is bigger than just mortgages. I worry that too many Americans are making aging at home a fetish, rather than a plan. While heading our Elder Protection Clinic at Penn State Dickinson Law for more than ten years, I often had opportunities to work with my students and their clients on various financial issues related to aging, including reverse mortgages. While I have certainly seen reverse mortgages alleviate specific needs for older adults, I've more often seen that the struggle to stay in the home is, arguably, misguided. What the older person is really hoping for is "not to age any more than necessary." In other words, not to "need" care. Hoping is different than planning.
Some of the wisest people I've known have made "aging in place" a fluid concept, rather than "home"-based. I'm thinking of one of my long influences, Mrs. Parker, who was a salty cowgirl. She'd grown up on horses in the Southwest and married the foreman of one of the biggest cattle ranches in Arizona. One of my favorite stories was about the Parkers' honeymoon, when they rode a string of fresh horses from northern to southern Arizona, breaking the colts along the way.
When ranching was no longer a way of life, the Parkers ran a riding school. Mrs. Parker nominally taught children how to ride horses -- but really she was constantly teaching about life. How well you actually rode the horses was often incidental to her lessons.
One of the things I noticed was that Mrs. Parker planned "aging" for herself and her husband, who was several years older. She knew he was very tied to place, and so they stayed in their home, a modern, but narrow "mobile home" (a/k/a "trailer") for many years beyond what their riding school income required. After his passing, she downsized, from the trailer on 10+ acres of horse-property complete with barns, pastures and riding arenas, to an easy-care home, with a small pasture for a few "old friends."
And then she did the most amazing thing of all. She carefully chose a distant relative as the most trustworthy person from among her large circle of friends and family to serve as her "agent." Mrs. Parker granted this individual Power of Attorney, with an express paragraph authorizing her agent the power to choose a personal care home or other long-term care setting if that became necessary. Which it did. Mrs. Parker lived a very long time as a widow. On one of my last visits with her, she said, poignantly, "I think I remember that I used to know you."
Mrs. Parker's transition from phase to phase was financed by downsizing and by selling their property and her "retirement" home in an orderly way, without a loss of dignity and without a crisis.
We have blogged on several occasions about the issues surrounding caregiving, including the need for caregivers, who provides care, etc. Ever wonder what caregiving costs the caregiver? If I said $5,000 per year, would you say that was more than you thought, or less? What if I told you almost 30% of caregivers spend $10,000 or more? Surprised?
Caring ran a story on the costs of caregiving based on a report they recently compiled. Nearly Half of Family Caregivers Spend Over $5,000 Per Year on Caregiving Costs reports that nearly 50% of the "family caregivers spend more than $5,000 per year on caregiving expenses" (the study considers a family caregiver to be "someone who takes care of a family member or friend, but is unpaid for ... services.... [and] caregiving expenses include out-of-pocket costs for medications, medical bills, in-home care, nursing homes and more." What are the breakdowns for this group of caregivers? "16% spend from $5,000 to $9,999 * 11% spend from $10,000 to $19,999 * 7% spend $20,000 to $29,999 * 5% spend $30,000 to $49,999 * 7% spend $50,000 or more each year." The report includes some other interesting statistics and includes this interesting observation
Caregiving not only has an effect on finances, but it can also impact current employment and future retirement plans, too. One-third of family caregivers (33%) spend more than 30 hours per week on caregiving, making it almost the equivalent of a full-time job. Half of caregivers have made changes to their work schedule to accommodate caregiving, while 30% often arrived late or left early and 17% missed a significant amount of work.
More details about the report and the cost of caregiving are available here
Sunday, September 21, 2014
A more positive way perhaps to word the question might be "how old do you want to live to be?" The Atlantic ran an article that phrased it a bit differently, but still focused on at what age is long lived enough? The author, Ezekiel Emanuel, serves as Director, Clinical Bioethics Department, National Institutes of Health & chairs U. of Pa. Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy. Why I Hope to Die at 75 appeared in the September 17, 2014 issue. Dr. Emanuel writes about his decision that 75 is his "magic number" and how others have tried to convince him that he should change his mind on this. Why 75? He explains
By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy. Indeed, I plan to have my memorial service before I die. And I don’t want any crying or wailing, but a warm gathering filled with fun reminiscences, stories of my awkwardness, and celebrations of a good life. After I die, my survivors can have their own memorial service if they want—that is not my business.
He makes it clear that he is not supporting physician-aided dying and if he lives past 75, so be it-he's not going to take steps to end his life. Where his wish comes into play is the type of health care he will consent to receiving once he hits that age. He argues that more years don't necessarily mean good years, noting that seventy is NOT the "new fifty". Although older folks may be more active or in better health, there is still a rise in disability which he points to as a reason that the focus shouldn't just be on quantity. He quotes another expert, "health care hasn’t slowed the aging process so much as it has slowed the dying process." The fact of living longer but more incapacitated holds no appeal for him.
Dr. Emanuel looks at examples of health care issues, such as stroke and dementia, using statistics and real stories to illustrate his point. Regarding Alzheimer's, after citing to statistics on the correlation between aging and dementia, he offers
[e]ven if we aren’t demented, our mental functioning deteriorates as we grow older. Age-associated declines in mental-processing speed, working and long-term memory, and problem-solving are well established. Conversely, distractibility increases. We cannot focus and stay with a project as well as we could when we were young. As we move slower with age, we also think slower.
He also discusses the correlation between age and creativity-an inverse relationship it seems--the older you are, the less creative, unless you are one of those rare individuals (we all know of someone quite famous who did something remarkably creative at an advanced age---think Grandma Moses).
As we age, to accommodate our "current selves" we constrict how we live, and as Dr. Emanuel describes, we find ourselves "aspiring to and doing less and less". Yet we each enjoy different things. This calls to mind some of the arguments we hear about the use of substituted judgment in health care/end of life decision-making. We each define a quality of life in different ways, and Dr. Emanuel recognizes that his view may be a bit harsh.
Yet, he contends, it is not about the elder individual racking up the years. There is a burden on the family to be considered, and he says "I will leave aside the very real and oppressive financial and caregiving burdens that many, if not most, adults in the so-called sandwich generation are now experiencing, caught between the care of children and parents. Our living too long places real emotional weights on our progeny."
Back to his plan when he reaches 75. As far as health care, here is his plan: to "stop getting any regular preventive tests, screenings, or interventions ... [and] accept only palliative—not curative—treatments if ... suffering pain or other disability." He makes it clear that this is his view and he respects the views of others that are contrary to his.
This article provides a wealth of topics for discussions with our students and is worthwhile reading, even though you may hold a contrary view to Dr. Emanuel.
Seems like there have been several interesting developments in the past few weeks regarding end of life decision making. Thanks again to Charlie Sabatino, Executive Director of the ABA Commission on Law & Aging. former NAELA president, national expert on end of life issues and all around great guy, for sending me an email about the series run on WNYC public radio. The station ran a 3 part series on "death beds" The first, Death Beds: Terminally Ill, But Constantly Hospitalized aired on September 8, 2014. The second, Death Beds: Too Little, Too Late for Many New Yorkers Seeking Hospice aired the next day, and the third, Death Beds: Living Wills Slowly Take Root aired on September 10, 2014.
Each includes the audio recording as well as the print story. Worth a listen!
Thursday, September 18, 2014
The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies has released a new report on end of life issues. The report, Dying in America: Improving Quality and Honoring Individual Preferences Near the End of Life was released on September 17, 2014. The report brief offers an explanation of the importance of this new survey, including the sheer numbers of American elders who are living with some limitations on ADLs, chronic illness, cognitive issues and more. As well the report points to issues with the health care system, including problems in accessing care, a lack of palliative care specialists and knowledge about end of life care, and a health care system that works out of sync, with economic incentives. The brief concludes with a call for "person-centered, family-oriented approach that honors individual preferences and promotes quality of life through the end of life [as] ... a national priority." The report is "a comprehensive assessment of the knowledge gaps, structural problems, and financial disincentives that hamper delivery of optimal care and makes cross-sectoral recommendations to achieve compassionate, affordable, sustainable, and effective care for all Americans."
The website also includes a link to key findings, core components, an infographic and a quiz (5 questions) which is suitable for use in class.
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
(Thanks to Judy Stein, Executive Director for the Center for Medicare Advocacy (CMA) for sharing this).
Recently I sat in on a very interesting webinar on The Green House Project. I had heard the phrase "green house" connected to new options for Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRCs), but I was not sure what it entailed, and it turns out it is not limited to CCRCs. (When I first heard the term, I confused it with "green designs" intended to lower energy costs, or perhaps some movement to include gardening as therapy.)
Here are a few highlights from what I now understand:
- The Green House Project, about 11 years old, began with development support from a number of funding sources, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, as a new approach to long-term care, requiring a major change in thinking about senior housing design and staffing.
- The hallmark is person-centered care in a cluster setting of no more than 12 individuals, preferably 10.
- Residents have individual bedrooms and bathrooms, thus creating "home" environments.
- Meals are prepared and served in the central space - again, an effort to provide "home" settings.
- No call buttons, no nursing stations, and as few wheelchairs as possible.
- Expanded roles (and enhanced esteem) for staff members; the in-house caregivers or "shahbazim" have a wider range of responsibilities that include cooking and activity planning, and these roles involve specialized training.
Individual facilities can become "trademarked" Green Houses -- although the term has also become something of a trend in the senior housing industry, without being tied strictly to trademarking. The Green House Project, a nonprofit organization, charges fees for formal consultations in the planning process. In some instances, fees may be covered by grants from other foundations.
Here's the link to the Green House Project website, including information on additional upcoming (and free!) webinars on financing, plus opportunities to participate in on-site workshops. I can see these as useful resources for students asked to consider new models for care.
Friday, September 12, 2014
Our friend and health law/elder law rock star, Marshall Kapp, sent me a note about a book review he authored (thanks Marshall) that appears in The Gerontologist Advance Access. The review is of the book, The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government by Phillip K. Howard.
You may be wondering why a blog for elderlawprofs is posting about laws and government regulations. Three words: nursing home regulation. Although a subscription is required to read the full review, an excerpt is available for free, much of which I have reproduced here
The brilliant satirist Jonathan Swift said long ago, “Laws are like cobwebs, which may catch small flies, but let wasps and hornets break through.” (Brainy Quote, n.d.). Swift certainly did not intend that remark as a compliment to either laws or cobwebs. Nonetheless, almost all laws originate to accomplish some reasonably defensible public purpose, even though ... poorly drafted, inconsistently ... enforced, and perpetuated beyond ... their original justification ....
In this latest project, Howard despairs that regulation in the United States has veered far from its proper function as a setter of boundaries or parameters within which individuals are empowered... (end of excerpt).
Since Marshall sent me a full copy of the book review, I can explain further what the abstract does not, how the author uses nursing home regulations as an example. Marshall describes this on page 1-2 of his review
One of the primary examples that author Howard utilizes throughout The Rule of Nobody to illustrate his constructive critique about the largely dysfunctional nature of the contemporary American regulatory situation is the overwhelmingly extensive and complex set of formal command and-control rules we have promulgated on the federal and state levels to govern the operation of nursing homes.
Marhsall offers a bit of history as to why we have so many laws and regulations for nursing homes and suggests that now is "the time to seriously contemplate smarter, rather than just bigger, regulation...." (review at page 2). He notes that the author provides examples of when the regulations don't end up benefitting the residents, with current regulations stifling innovation. (review at 3). Marshall concludes his review with this summary
[T]he Rule of Nobody is noteworthy for the nation generally and for long-term care policy-makers particularly... Settling for being “in the ball park” is damning with faint praise, indeed. The only option for many vulnerable individuals is dependence on the benevolence of nursing home owners and workers and lawmakers’ careful guidance. Society owes them a system of oversight and influence that not only aspires to, but effectively achieves, a much loftier standard.
Another one to add to the reading list.
Thursday, September 11, 2014
Judge Geraci of the U.S. District Court, Western District of New York, is the latest judge to address an important topic in Elder Law regarding eligibility for long-term care benefits under Medicaid. The court defines the issue as follows: "When an uncompensated transfer of assets has been made and a [Medicaid] penalty period imposed, how does a partial return of the transferred funds affect the beginning of the penalty period?"
In its August 2014 decision in Aplin v. McCrossen, the court addresses summary judgment motions in two separate cases that were filed on behalf of 80-year-old Florence Aplin and 85-year old Sergio Ciardi, both residents of nursing homes. In one case, for example, the Aplin case, the transfers totaled approximately $450,000; however, approximately $76,000 was later returned by the donees. The hope of the plaintiffs was that "return" of the money would permit them to shorten their penalty periods tied to the original transfers. This approach, when planned in advance, is a post-Deficit Reduction Act technique sometimes known in Elder Law circles as a "partial cure" (as part of "reverse half-a-loaf" gifting).
Judge Geraci denied the relief sought by the plaintiffs. He followed the hardline approach of "nonprecedential" rulings on New Jersey disputes about partial cures, ruling that "return" of money permits the state agency to recalculate the start of the penalty period. The court decided that NY administrative rules do not conflict with federal policy and not only permit but require the state agency to, in effect, restart the penalty period on the ground that the later date is when the "applicant becomes otherwise eligible for Medicaid." This phrase is a key concept in federal Medicaid law. The plaintiffs had argued that phrase applied only to an earlier date, from their original application. Judge Geraci concluded:
"I find no circumstances in this case which indicated that Defendants' interpretation and application of the provisions of [New York administrative directives] contravene Congress' articulated purpose in enacting the Medicaid Act -- to provide medical care, services and supplies for the financially needy. Essentially, the assessment of an applicant's income and resources which results in a determination that such applicant has transferred resources for less than fair market value during the statutory look-back period and that an appropriate penalty period must be imposed, ensures that the applicant has not falsely impoverished himself or herself in order to qualify for medical assistance at public expenses which, by law, is undeserved."
While it is apparent that the New York federal judge was not eager to give applicants any benefit tied to partial cures on transfers, the decision also appears to approve or at least ignore what some would describe as a "perverse effect" of the New York policy. By imposing a new, later "start date" for the ineligibility period following the return, New York can actually impose a penalty that is longer than the original penalty period for the full transfer.
Also at issue in the case was the effect of a series of statements on the federal government's side, including the so-called "McGreal Letter" from CMS that was relied on by the plaintiffs in making the returns. (The court did not expressly address a May 2014 GAO study, where it was reported at page 28 that "[a]ccording to CMS, states can choose whether or not to consider a partial return of transferred assets on Medicaid planning.")
Should there be uniformity among the states, not just on whether but how families can seek any relief from "resource" limits set by federal law? (The GAO study linked above indicates a range of different state-specific options are in play.) The answer to that question may depend on one's point of view.
For more background on the complex interaction between Medicaid applications, ineligibility periods triggered by uncompensated transfers, partial cure attempts and penalty start dates, see ElderLawGuy Jeff Marshall's blog post from 2011.
Tuesday, September 9, 2014
In Psychiatric Times, Dr. Anandhi Narasimhan, California-based and board certified in psychiatry and neurology, compares her professional and personal experiences with grieving following the death of her father. She writes well, and in additional to offering suggestions for coping, she shares this poignant detail from her father's life, which also served to introduce me to a new and intriguing idea, "dialysis at sea." She writes:
"My father was a distinguished scientist who placed value on education. Although he did not believe in lavishness, he always liked to present himself in a well-groomed fashion. I miss his sense of humor, and I have discovered how important such a quality can be when faced with tough times. Remembering his witty repertoire reminds me to celebrate his life.
The picture I have included [with her essay in Psychiatric Times] is from an Alaskan cruise my family took. We had talked about taking a cruise as a family in the past; this had been a dream of my father’s. When he was placed on regular dialysis treatments, he said, 'I guess now I won’t ever be able to go on a cruise.'
It wasn’t until I saw a poster advertising 'Dialysis at Sea' that I realized we could make his dream come true. With some logistical planning, transferring of medical records and such, we were able to take my father on an Alaskan cruise, an experience he both treasured and loved.When I was growing up, my father had a sort of utilitarian view of vacations—we often had to be doing and seeing things; they had to be productive. This vacation was different—it was nice to see him relax and enjoy the awesome beauty of Alaskan glaciers. His smile in the picture is how I would like to remember him: intelligent, positive, humorous, and charming."
Read more of "My Father's Influence" here.
Friday, September 5, 2014
We have several posts about the use of technology in caregiving. I cover it in my classes (do you?) and in particular, I want my students to think about consent, privacy and autonomy. Several years ago, there were stories about PARO, a therapeutic interactive robot designed to resemble a baby harp seal, and its use with certain individuals, including those residing in nursing homes. (The company website has quite a bit of information about PARO, including research papers.) There are lots of different types of technologies available, whether assistive or monitoring.
A recent article in the San Jose Mercury News (and picked up by my local paper, the Tampa Bay Times) Meet Paro, a robot designed to help the elderly, reports on the results from using Paro in a local retirement community. This article looks at the issues of ethics as well as how the use of such "socially assistive" robots results in less isolation for some residents. The story highlights the interactions of some residents with the robot. The article also reviews the debate regarding using such robots. For example, Sherry Turkle, an MIT social scientist is quoted in the article offering a concern that
"faux relationships" with machines may detract from human connections..."It's not just that older people are supposed to be talking. Younger people are supposed to be listening... [and] ... [w]e are showing very little interest in what our elders have to say." Robots like Paro may offer comfort to isolated seniors, Turkle has written, but it could "make us less likely to look for other solutions for their care."
Another expert, Professor Maja Mataric, offers a counter-view, that such robots provide both "valuable reinforcement and motivation" and notes that
While robots aren't a complete substitute for human interaction, she stressed, they may play a vital role since "there just simply aren't enough people to take care of our very large and growing elderly population." ... [and] added: "We need to think about the humane and ethical use of technology, because these things are coming."
I think this is a great topic for discussion with students. Let me know what you think.
Wednesday, September 3, 2014
We get calls of all types, on our cell phones and for those of us who still have them, our land lines. Imagine a phone call offering you counseling on end of life options. Sound far-fetched? Not so much for some. Kaiser Health News (KHN) ran a story in late August, Operator? Business, Insurer Take On End-of-Life Issues By Phone. The article describes a company "Vital Decisions... [where] [a]fter sending a letter (people rarely respond) counselors essentially cold-call to offer what they describe as “nondirected” end-of-life counseling" to those who are quite ill. The company uses social workers to make the calls, which are short (about 15 minutes). Here's what the program is designed to achieve:
to build a relationship over the phone, [with the patient] so [the patient] might be comfortable discussing his situation and his goals. Then he’ll be empowered to communicate those things with others, including his family and his doctors. He could also choose to allow the counselor to talk to his doctors or family directly. It’s paid for by insurers and federal privacy rules permit this for business purposes.
According to Vital Decision's CEO, the goal is to facilitate discussions about end of life care and empower the patient's decision-making. "The goal is for patients to receive care in those final months that aligns with what the patient wants, even if that's the most aggressive treatment available." Some are skeptical of this phone approach because of the lack of in-person interaction and the challenges to remain neutral, which is why one expert calls for "full transparency from insurers and the company to guard against bias in the sessions."
Monday, September 1, 2014
Washington Post writer Frederick Kunkle profiles Meryl Comer, author of "Slow Dancing With a Stranger," a new book that "offers an unflinching and intimate account about what it means to surrender one's career to care" for a loved one stricken with Alzhemier's. In describing the author and her book, he writes:
"Its a a love stsory without a happy ending, because the ending for Alzheimer's patients can seem more like endless twilight. And it's a call to arms for caregivers such as Comer....
When Alzhemier's took hold, [her husband, chief of hematology and oncology at NIH, Harvey Gralnick] was a fit 56-year-old -- he ran six miles a day -- who dressed impeccably wearing the latest fashions beneath his lab coat.... For a time, he was able to mask his symptoms behind his reputation as a brilliant if eccentric scientist....
As his condition worsened, Comer, too, gave up her career -- and she adds with a note of bitterness, her 'prime.' In her blunt-talking manner, she acknowledged that she did so not entirely out of devotion but because doctors told her more than once, wrongly, that the progress of her husband's disease would not be long.
Finances, too, were a factor. It was almost impossible to find care that she felt would be satisfactory for her husband and yet affordable. Her burden intensified even further when her mother, too, developed Alzheimer's; her mother now shares the same home with Comer and her husband."
The book is meant to make people mad -- and more realistic and focused -- about the need for solutions. The article quotes George Vradenburg, a co-founder with Comer of the nonprofit group USAgainstAlzheimer's, who hopes that Comer's book will stir conversations about a disease many prefer not to think about. "I hope America gets mad," Vradenburg is quoted as saying.
For more, see "Alzheimer's -- Thief and Killer," in the Washington Post.
Monday, August 25, 2014
In a feature article on Medicare's "star ratings," the New York Times reports that some nursing homes are able to "game the system" through self-reports of data that fail to include complaints filed with state agencies. The article uses examples to show that even five star ratings, the highest available, can be obtained despite pending state investigations into serious allegations of mishandled care. The ratings by Medicare were intended to provide an objective measure for consumers and in recent years a growing proportion of nursing homes have obtained higher ratings.
"But some nursing homes are not truly improving. Instead, they have learned how to game the rating system, according to ]New York Times] interviews with current and former nursing home employees, lawyers and patient advocacy groups. Nationally, the proportion of homes with above-average ratings has risen steadily. In 2009, when the program began, 37 percent of them received four- or five-star ratings. By 2013, nearly half did.
The Times analysis shows that even nursing homes with a history of poor care rate highly in the areas that rely on self-reported data. Of more than 50 nursing homes on a federal watch list for quality, nearly two-thirds hold four- or five-star ratings for their staff levels and quality statistics. The same homes do not fare as well on the sole criterion that is based on an independent review. More than 95 percent of the homes on the watch list received one or two stars for the health inspection, which is conducted by state workers."
For more, see "Medicare Star Ratings Allow Nursing Homes to Game the System" by Kate Thomas.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
The Pennsyvania Joint State Government Commission issued a final report of its Advisory Committee on Long Term Care Services and Support for Older Pennsylvanians on August 21, 2014, following a year-long assessment of existing concerns of independent and care-dependent elders in Pennsylvania.
In a one-page summary of the 200 page report, the Commision makes the following Recommendations:
"Opportunities exist to improve system structure and organization, reduce barriers, and break down silos that characterize service delivery and payment. Better care transitions and improved coordination of service providers are also crucial, along with increased support for family caregivers. Focused information and awareness for consumers and families helps ensure they know where to turn when a crisis hits, which is often their first exposure to long term care. Expanding access to services and supports, through a tiered system that shares costs, will help improve quality and increase accountability. Enhancements to local resources, including Area Agency on Aging networks, will focus services and advance more equal community, facility, and home care options. These reforms will help ensure access to long term care for all Pennsylvania seniors, and prevent those who need assistance but don’t qualify for supports, from falling between the cracks."
Now comes the hard work . . . getting to an implementation stage.
Friday, August 22, 2014
Canada's hospitals are "overflowing at the seams" with patients who don't need to be there - frail and aging seniors, many of them with dementia, who have nowhere else to go, says the incoming leader of the Canadian Medical Association. The "warehousing of seniors" is costing the system $2.3 billion a year and highlights urgent need for a national rethink of seniors' care, Dr. Chris Simpson said in his inaugural speech Wednesday as CMA president.
Simpson, who also chairs the national Wait Times Alliance, said Canadians are facing long waits for virtually every non-urgent test, surgery or procedure "because the beds needed are filled with patients who don't need to be in hospitals."
Seniors awaiting placement in other facilities are occupying about 15 per cent of hospital beds. But "instead of focusing on getting them back to their independence we put them in beds, because that's what we do in hospitals. We put people to bed instead of putting them in a care environment that lifts them up and restores them and helps them live a dignified life."
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Wow! Medicaid transfer rules argued in prime time! (Well, almost...)
On August 20, the Ohio Supreme Court heard oral argument on Estate of Atkinson v. Ohio Dept. of Job & Family Services, Case No. 2013-1773. Video of the presentations (including the very interesting questions from the bench) can now be viewed here on the Ohio Channel.
This strikes me as a great opportunity for Elder Law course students to read briefs and observe lawyers in oral argument tackle technical, challenging legal issues (listen to the Court ask one attorney to slow down and explain his use of pronouns). Can you predict the outcome? Note: The Supreme Court's arguments on Ohio Channel appear as high quality productions, well edited, with subtitles indicating the names of the speakers and the identity of the issues on appeal, and the website is searchable for other appellate cases for faculty members looking for examples to use in other classes.
As framed in the appeal, the issue is whether the community husband's actions triggered a period of ineligibility for Medicaid benefits for his wife in the nursing home. The record showed the husband transfered the couple's home "out" of the couple's long-standing revocable trust to the name of the institutionalized spouse, and then in turn, the same day, to the community spouse. As described in one news account:
"The county department of job and family services found that the transfer of the home, valued at $53,750, was improper because it violated federal and state Medicaid rules. While Mrs. Atkinson’s Medicaid benefits were approved, the agency temporarily excluded nursing-home care from her coverage because of the transfer."
The state has been successful with its arguments before state agencies up to this point. The Ohio Supreme Court, however, asked the attorneys about the applicability and relevance of the 6th Circuit's 2013 decision in Hughes v. McCarthy regarding permitted use of spousal annuities in Medicaid planning in Ohio. During the oral argument, one Justice also asks whether the state should be bound by the position taken by the federal agency, Health and Human Services (apparently in an amicus brief), in support of the family's argument.
There are also opportunities here to think about whether -- and how -- this particular transfer issue might have been avoided with different planning.