Friday, May 27, 2016
Robert A. Mead, with many years of experience as a law librarian at the University of Kansas, the University of New Mexico and the New Mexico Supreme Court, and now serving as the Deputy Chief Public Defender for New Mexico, recently offered his take on claims made by family members and third-parties under state "filial responsibility" laws. His article, "Getting Stuck with the Bill? Filial Responsibility Statutes, Long-Term Care, Medicaid, and Demographic Pressure," appears in the Elder Law Advisory published by Westlaw in May 2016 (and apparently available by subscription only). He tracks the demographics of aging in the U.S. and surveys cases from Pennsylvania, North and South Dakota. Based on research, Rob predicts:
The doubling of the number of elders in society will require a substantial increase in Medicare and Medicaid funding especially if a significant percentage of them are indigent in their last years. Without this increase, filial responsibility statutes and Medicaid estate recovery will likely be used by states to address shortfalls in Medicaid funding. . . . Even without state authorities using filial responsibility statutes to seek Medicaid reimbursement, they will continue to be raised in related contexts. When siblings spar over the medical debts incurred by their deceased statutes and the effect of these debts on the probating of estates, filial responsibility becomes a complicating factor such as in Eori, Pittas, and Linderkamp cases. More insidiously, long-term care facilities are beginning to use filial support statutes to seek reimbursement for debts without waiting for resolution of whether the elder was eligible for Medicaid, as in Randall and Pittas. In some situations it will be financially advantageous for facilities to litigate against heirs rather than to settle for lower Medicaid rates. As the case law continues to develop and the demographic crisis grows, look for these novel uses of filial responsibility statutes to continue and become mainstream. It is incumbent upon lawyers representing clients in states with such statutes to plan and draft accordingly.
It is fun for me to see that Rob Mead, a former student from my own days at the University of New Mexico School of Law, has, entirely independent of my influence, kept his own eye on law and aging policy issues.
Thursday, May 26, 2016
We all know folks who are the glass half-full type (optimist), as well as the glass half-empty type (pessimist). When one talks to those folks, how those folks interpret what they hear depends on what "glass type" they are. The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) ran a story about a study, Prevalence of and Factors Related to Discordance About Prognosis Between Physicians and Surrogate Decision Makers of Critically Ill Patients. According to the abstract, "[m]isperceptions about prognosis by individuals making decisions for incapacitated critically ill patients (surrogates) are common and often attributed to poor comprehension of medical information."
The authors noted how important it is for the health care surrogate to have information in order to make a health care decision for the patient. But, according to the study,
Numerous studies over the last 3 decades indicate that surrogates of patients with advanced illness often have optimistic expectations about prognosis. This is problematic because optimistic expectations are associated with more use of invasive treatments in dying patients and delayed integration of palliative care. Clinicians cite unrealistic expectations by surrogates as one of the most important barriers to high-quality end-of-life care in seriously ill patients.(citations omitted).
The authors look at some of the reasons for this disparity in viewpoint (including the lack of medical knowledge by surrogates). Here is one example of their findings regarding the disparity of views:
Physician-surrogate discordance about prognosis occurred in 122 of 229 instances (53%; 95% CI, 46.8%-59.7%). Among the 229 surrogates participating in the study, 98 (43%) were more optimistic than physicians and 24 (10%) were more pessimistic. Sixty-five instances (28%) were related to a combination of misunderstandings by surrogates and differences in belief between the physician and surrogate about the patient’s prognosis; 38 (17%) were related to misunderstanding only; 7 (3%) were related to different beliefs; and data were missing for 12.
The authors explore the reasons for the surrogates' glass half-full view and learned that the surrogates felt that a positive attitude: "would improve the patient’s outcomes or protect themselves from emotional distress"; was justified because they knew the patient better than the doctor, including knowing if the patient were a strong person; and/or was based on their religious beliefs.
The study also explored the glass half-empty views of surrogates. The study authors concluded that "[a]mong critically ill patients receiving care in ICUs, discordant expectations about prognosis were common betwTeen patients’ physicians and surrogate decision makers and were related to both misunderstandings by surrogates about physicians’ assessments of patients’ prognoses and differences in beliefs about patients’ prognoses."
The article is available here for free
Senior residential care provider Life Care Centers of America is the focus of recent legal news, including:
- KOAA TV 5 News: Colorado Jury Awards $5.5 million in wrongful death suit against Life Care Center of Pueblo.
- Chattanooga Times Free Press: Settlement May be Brewing in Government's Longtime Federal Case alleging False Claims - Billing Practices by Life Care Centers of America
Plaintiffs' Class Certified in Dispute over LTC Insurance Coverage for Care by "Managed Residential Communities" or "Assisted Living Services Agencies"
As we've reported fairly often on this Blog (see e.g., here, re California litigation), the long-term care insurance (LTCI) industry has been battling disputes on many fronts. One of the fronts is whether insurers can deny benefits to pay for care provided in settings other than "skilled nursing facilities." On March 1, 2016, a federal court in Connecticut granted class certification to estates and policy holders who are challenging denial of coverage for stays in "managed residential communities" (MRCs) in Connecticut or to cover services provided through "assisted living services agencies" (ALSAs). In Estate of Gardner v. Continental Casualty Company, 2016 WL 806823, the court agreed the plaintiffs had satisfied the class certification requirements for "numerosity," commonality, and typicality of issues, as well as establishing grounds to argue "imminence of injury" to support a claim for injunctive relief:
While Plaintiffs do seek monetary relief, it appears to the Court that what they primarily seek is forward-looking relief. Plaintiffs purchased long-term care policies, presumably with the expectation that they would utilize their coverage over a long term. Any adequate remedy would have to ensure that they could obtain coverage for claims prospectively. For that, an injunction is required. Moreover, Plaintiffs leave no ambiguity about the content of the injunction they seek: an end to Defendant's alleged policy of denying claims for assisted-living facilities across the board. This is exactly the type of relief Rule 23(b)(2) was designed to facilitate. Because Plaintiffs' proposed Rule 23(b)(2) class satisfied all of the requirements of Rule 23, certification is proper.
For more on the background of the Connecticut case, see "Connecticut class action accuses insurer of denying assisted-living claims."
Tuesday, May 24, 2016
A very sad story hit the news last week. A Florida man killed his chronically ill wife because they couldn't afford her prescriptions. Florida Man Says He Killed Sick Wife Because He Couldn’t Afford Her Medicine, Sheriff Says explains that the husband in the over 50 year marriage told the law enforcement officer who responded to the call that "[t]he cost of her medications had become so burdensome that they could no longer afford it ... [s]o on Monday morning while she was sleeping, he shot her in the head...." According to the article the husband has been charged with premeditated first degree murder. A representative of the Sherriff's office was quoted as saying that the husband "was perfectly clear on that he was going to be arrested and go to jail, but again, he felt that this is where it had gotten to him and this was his course of action... showed emotion and he was very clear that he was out of options in his mind.” At the time of the story, according to the article, there was no information about their health insurance status.
This story notes the issues with elders on fixed incomes and the costs of medications. There have been stories in the press of late about price spikes in certain medications and the Senate Committee on Aging has held two hearings this year on the topic, available here and here.
On April 28, 2016, the Texas Court of Appeals affirmed an award of some $145k in damages to an elderly couple for breach of a "Life Care" contract by their residential community. In Barton Creek Senior Living Center, d/b/a Querencia at Barton Creek v. Howland, the residential community staff attempted to refuse to communicate with the children of a couple, in their 80s, on the reported grounds that "communication with their children was unworkable because of the discord with the children." The facility, Querencia, reportedly soon "terminated the Life Care Agreement with the Howlands and ordered them to vacate the premises within thirty days." The Howlands did vacate the premises, moving to an assisted living community with a different pricing and service structure; however, they contended they were denied the "benefit of their bargain" with Querencia.
On appeal, Querencia does not challenge the finding that it failed to comply with the Life Care Agreement, but contends that the evidence is legally and factually insufficient to support the damages awarded to Howland. Specifically, Querencia argues that the damages cannot be tied to the pre-termination notice being 30 days instead of [the contract's specified notice of] 60 days. It also contends that Howland does not deserve damages for assistive services used after termination that they were already using before termination. Finally, Querencia contends that it properly withheld ten percent of the Howlands' deposit pursuant to their contract.
The appellate court rejected these arguments with a textbook discussion of remedies for breach of contract necessary to protect the non-breaching party's expectation interest:
Although the Howlands employed private care providers while at Querencia, there is evidence that the Howlands' move to The Summit increased their monthly expenses because the monthly rent was higher at The Summit, it provided fewer services than Querencia, and services at The Summit were more expensive.... Howland claimed over a million dollars in damages, Querencia countered that Howland profited from the breach, and the jury awarded Howland $82,500 plus the unrefunded deposit. The evidence in the record supports the jury's exercise of its role as factfinder regarding the damages award. The evidence also supports the jury's award of $62,990 representing the portion of the Howlands' deposit that Querencia did not refund. Querencia asserts that it was entitled to retain ten percent of the Howlands' deposit under the terms of the Life Care Agreement. But the jury found that Querencia breached that agreement, and restitution is a permissible measure of damages for breach of contract.... The jury was empowered to and did decide that Querencia must compensate for its breach by returning the final ten percent of the Howlands' deposit.
The finding of breach appeared to have been predicated on the contract's specified grounds permitting termination, which included fairly standard provisions such as inability to meet medical needs, nonpayment by the residents, or a resident's breach of "policies and procedures" that create a situation that is "detrimental to the health, safety or quiet enjoyment of the community by other residents or the staff." The court appeared to be persuaded by the argument that Querencia failed to comply with a further contractual provision, mandating parties be given an "opportunity-to-cure" in the event of disputes.
Despite the affirmance on damages, the appellate court also set aside the trial court's award of $166k in attorney's fees for the plaintiffs, rejecting a "lodestar" argument for the award, and remanded the case for further proceedings on reasonable and necessary fees.
In reading the opinion (and the headnotes from Westlaw on the opinion, which refer to Querencia as a "nursing home"), I'm struck once again by the confusion that "continuing care" contracts, including so-called "life care" contracts, can cause for parties, although usually any landmines tend to affect resident rights, rather than providers. Thus, I would anticipate that in the future, providers worried about protecting their right to terminate relations with "troublesome" individuals, will attempt to beef up their "policies and procedures," to give clearer rights to refuse to communicate with troublesome family members of residents.
Monday, May 23, 2016
California Supreme Court Clarifies Parties Potentially Liable for "Neglect" Under State's Elder Abuse Law
I think it is safe to say that California has one of the most significant -- and for some, controversial -- "elder protection" laws in the U.S. For example, while all states permit state authorities to investigate and intervene in instances of elder abuse, California's statute recognizes a victim's private right of action for damages, arising from physical abuse, neglect, or fiduciary abuse of an elderly or dependent adult. There are certain proof requirements and limitations on the damages that can be awarded under California's Elder Abuse Act, but, where the plaintiff shows clear and convincing evidence of recklessness, oppression, fraud or malice, the prevailing party can also obtain "heightened remedies," including "reasonable attorneys fees" and costs. At the same time, the history of the California law also reflects a legislative tension between a determination to address elder abuse and concern about the potential impact of the broader remedy in so-called traditional "medical malpractice" claims. This tension plays out in a ruling by the California Supreme Court in the long-running case of Winn v. Pioneer Medical Group Inc. In the unanimous decision published May 19. 2016, the court helpfully summarizes its own holding:
We granted review to determine whether the definition of neglect under the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act (Welf. & Inst. Code Section 15600 et seq.; the Elder Abuse Act or Act) applies when a health care provider -- delivering care on an outpatient basis -- failed to refer an elder patient to a specialist. What we conclude is that the Act does not apply unless the defendant health care provider had a substantial caretaking or custodial relationship, involving ongoing responsibility for one or more basic needs, with the elder patient.
The court further explains, "It is the nature of the elder or dependent adult's relationship with the defendant -- not the defendant's professional standing -- that makes the defendant potentially liable for neglect. Because defendants did not have a caretaking or custodial relationship with the decedent, we find that plaintiffs cannot adequately allege neglect under the Elder Abuse Act."
The California Supreme Court concluded that the Winn plaintiffs cannot bring a claim for statutory "elder neglect" arising out of allegations that treating physicians failed for two years to refer an 83 year-old woman to a vascular specialist. The suit dates back to 2007-2009, with the patient alleged to have died from complications associated with chronic ulcers of her lower extremities. The unanimous ruling reverses the California Court of Appeals' 2 to 1 ruling in favor of the statutory claim, issued in May 2013.
This ruling does seem to leave nursing homes and similar "custodial" care providers potentially subject to the enhanced remedies of California's Elder Abuse Act.
Sunday, May 22, 2016
Two ABA commissions and two ABA sections have created the PRACTICAL supported decision-making tool for lawyers which "aims to help lawyers identify and implement decision-making options for persons with disabilities that are less restrictive than guardianship." PRACTICAL is the acronym for the steps the lawyer takes to identify the options both during the interview with the client and after when considering the case. The tool is available both as a fillable pdf or a word document. There is also an accompanying resource guide in pdf.
Download your copy now!
Friday, May 20, 2016
I had mentioned previously that I was looking at the Genworth annual cost of care survey. As a corollary, Genworth has information about who provides care, referred to as The Expanding Circle of Care. The website mentions the caregivers, with "[t]he Beyond Dollars Research reveal[ing] 5 key insights on the true impact of long term care." The Expanding Circle of Care Beyond Dollars 2015 explains the 5 "key insights" in the executive summary. The circle of care is explained as:
The financial, physical and emotional demands of providing care for a loved one can sometimes be more than a single caregiver can handle. The good news is that more family members are helping provide care. The opportunity to plan for the likelihood of needing long term care before a crisis situation occurs remains large. Our research has shown that a "Circle of Care" often forms around the care recipient, involving people who provide different levels and types of support.
The second insight is that although caregivers are positive about their role of caregivers, they note that "[c]aregiving can negatively impact health & well-being", including familial relationships and interactions with friends. The third insight is instructive regarding the future: "Caregivers’ savings and retirement funds are at risk"
Caregivers who help provide financial assistance for the care of their loved ones estimate that they pay, on average, a total of about $10,000 in out-of-pocket expenses.
That’s up from an average of $7,285 in 2010. Those financial expenses can include everything from household expenses, personal items, or transportation services, to payment of informal caregivers or long term care facilities.
Most caregivers did not anticipate or plan for this expenditure. In many cases, they are cutting back on personal spending and savings. More significantly, some may be jeopardizing their own financial futures.
It follows logically then that the fourth insight builds from the third one: "Caregivers’ careers and livelihoods are impacted by providing care." The caregivers who work reported a definite impact on their jobs, which in turn impacts the caregiver's bottom line. "Absences, reduced hours and chronic tardiness can translate into a significant reduction in a caregiver’s paycheck."
The executive summary is available here.
Thursday, May 19, 2016
While I was on the Genworth site looking at the looking at their annual Cost of Care survey findings, I noticed their simulated aging project, R70i Aging Experience. The Genworth R70i Aging Experience, according to the website "uses state-of-the-art technology to help people step into their future selves and directly experience the physical effects associated with aging. The experience reinforces the importance of thinking about future long term care needs and talking to loved ones about how they would like to age." The website offers interactive controls so the user can examine certain points of the "aging suit" as well as a video that shows how the suit functions along with a narration. This would be really cool if we could have one for our students to use, so they can experience it firsthand. (If anyone from Genworth is reading this and wants to donate one to us, I promise we'll share with other educational institutions :-))
Wednesday, May 18, 2016
We have blogged before about the idea of aging that is something to be "cured". The recent article in the New York Times explained some cutting edge research about fighting aging. Dogs Test Drug Aimed at Humans’ Biggest Killer: Age explains about a clinical trial with dogs that has implications for humans "the trial also represents a new frontier in testing a proposition for improving human health: Rather than only seeking treatments for the individual maladies that come with age, we might do better to target the biology that underlies aging itself." The drug being tested on dogs was previously tested on mice and "improved heart health and appeared to delay the onset of some diseases in older mice" but there is no guarantee that the same result will be achieved with dogs.
According to the article, age itself serves as a huge risk factor for a number of fatal diseases, so "[a] drug that slows aging, the logic goes, might instead serve to delay the onset of several major diseases at once." "Geroscience" that is "the study of aging’s basic biology" according to those quoted in the article, hasn't received a lot of attention. There's some genius in the approach of testing this drug with dogs, given American's love affair with their dog family members.
“Many of us in the biology of aging field feel like it is underfunded relative to the potential impact on human health this could have,” said Dr. Kaeberlein, who helped pay for the study with funds he received from the university for turning down a competing job offer. “If the average pet owner sees there’s a way to significantly delay aging in their pet, maybe it will begin to impact policy decisions.”
The article explains that research has been more "disease-specific" rather than globally looking at slowing down aging. Although the article does mention some projects that are specifically looking at slowing down or reversing aging. The article also explains the challenges for research in this field. What would be the results to humans if this research proves successful? A longer, healthier life. And if it isn't successful? Dr. Kaeberlein, explained: “I would argue we should be willing to tolerate some level of risk if the payoff is 20 to 30 percent increase in healthy longevity,” he said. “If we don’t do anything, we know what the outcome is going to be. You’re going to get sick, and you’re going to die.”
Sunday, May 15, 2016
We have posted before about family caregivers and their importance. AARP's May 10, 2016 blog post, Eldercare Primarily Concerns Older Workers and Their Employers, Right? Think Again, explained that "[f]or employers big and small, the need to support workers who also provide unpaid care for a family member is a growing reality." A huge number of family members who work (60%) also serve as family caregivers. Here's an important point about those 60%, slightly over 50% of them are at least 50 years old. But caregiving is not just an elder law issue, because there is a significant number of younger caregivers too. Almost three-quarters of millenials reported that they were caregiving and working. The blog post ends with the suggestion that
"[a]dvancing a culture of understanding about eldercare needs is especially important to help make the workplace more supportive of workers who are also family caregivers — many of whom are in their prime working years."
As reported in several financial news services, including McKnight's Long-Term Care News here, HCR ManorCare, owner/operator of a large number of skilled nursing and assisted living properties, is to be spun off by its corporate parent, HCP Inc., into the hands of "an independent real estate investment trust" called, appropriately enough, "SpinCo."
Certainly this seems to be a move to improve the financial position of HCP by separating the nursing home operations from independent living operations; it remains to be seen whether it also allows "troubled" HCR ManorCare to resolve concerns about quality of care and billing practices. The business history of ManorCare, with all of its various partners and name changes, probably serves as a marker for changes throughout the skilled care industry. For ManorCare's own perspective on its history, see "Our History Is Still Being Written."
Friday, May 13, 2016
Evict, Reject, Discharge: Are Nursing Homes Following the Rules or Is the Problem Bigger than "Rules"?
My colleague Becky Morgan posted earlier this week on the AP news story on nursing homes' attempts to evict difficult patients. This week the ABA Journal also linked to the AP story, plus tied the statistical reports of a nation-wide increase in complaints about evictions, rejections and discharges to one man's struggle to return to his California care center following what should have been short term hospitalization for pneumonia.
The story of Bruce Anderson is a reminder that a need for high-quality, facility-based "long term " care is not limited to "elderly" individuals. But it is also a reminder that individuals with serious behavioral issues, not just physical care needs, complicate the picture. Anderson experienced a severe brain injury at age 55 following a heart attack, but his younger age, lack of "private pay resources," and a history of apparently problematic behavior, are all reasons why a "traditional" nursing home may seek to avoid him as a resident.
The ongoing California litigation over Mr. Anderson and similarly situated residents heightens the need to think critically about whether we're being naive as a nation about "home is best" shifting of funding resources. Certainly there are many -- and probably too many -- individuals in facilities when they could be maintained at home if there was more funding to supplement family-based care.
At the same time, I tend to see this as downplaying the very real needs for high-level, behavioral care for individuals who aren't easily cared for by families or "traditional" nursing homes, much less by hospitals organized around critical care. It is about more than mere eviction, discharge and rejection statistics. The 1999 Olmstead decision was a watershed moment in recognizing the need for de-institutionalization of those with disabilities. But it may have pasted over the real need for quality of assistance and care in any and all settings, and what that means in terms of costs to a nation.
My thanks to Professor Laurel Terry at Dickinson Law who took time away from the fun of grading her exams to send us the ABA story.
Tuesday, May 10, 2016
Let's just start by saying the article I'm about to cite is a must-read for us.
The AP did a story on May 8, 2016, Nursing homes turn to eviction to drop difficult patients. The article opens "Nursing homes are increasingly evicting their most challenging residents, advocates for the aged and disabled say, testing protections for some of society's most vulnerable...Those targeted for eviction are frequently poor and suffering from dementia, according to residents' allies. They often put up little fight, their families unsure what to do. Removing them makes room for less labor-intensive and more profitable patients, critics of the tactic say, noting it can be shattering."
The AP did a study of data from the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program and learned that complaints regarding involuntary discharges have increased by about 57% since 2000. "[Discharge] was the top-reported grievance in 2014, with 11,331 such issues logged by ombudsmen, who work to resolve problems faced by residents of nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other adult-care settings." Why this increase in discharges? The article offers that the involuntary discharge often happens "because the resident came to be regarded as undesirable — requiring a greater level of care, exhibiting dementia-induced signs of aggression, or having a family that complained repeatedly about treatment, advocates say. Federal law spells out rules on acceptable transfers, but the advocates say offending facilities routinely stretch permitted justifications for discharge. Even when families fight a move and win an appeal, some homes have disregarded rulings."
The American Health Care Association offers an opposing view of the discharges, explaining that in some cases it is "lawful and necessary to remove residents who can't be kept safe or who endanger the safety of others, and says processes are in place to ensure evictions aren't done improperly."
The article also includes examples where a resident is admitted to a hospital and when ready to return to the nursing home, is refused readmission. Several cases are highlighted in the article, with experts from both sides of the issue offering opinions. The article also references staffing levels and the trauma encountered by residents who find themselves in a discharge situation.
Have your students read the applicable federal statute and then this article. I guarantee an interesting discussion.
Monday, May 9, 2016
The May 2016 issue of the South Carolina Bar Journal, SC Lawyer contains the article, Quick and Dirty Tips to Prevent Power of Attorney Abuse. The author offers several tips, starting with meeting with the client alone, determine if the client has capacity to sign the DPOA, ascertain the client's goals and expectations, "name an honest, trustworthy and trusted agent" (the author suggests the attorney "[google the agent and check your local court judgment index"); consider co-agents; use a springing POA; include an accounting provision to require the agent "to account in some fashion to a family member(s) or other trusted individual. It can be as formal or as informal as the principal desires. In that way there is another person informed about the principal’s financial situation" and even using a "cooling off" period for the client to think further before signing the DPOA.
The article also covers actions when the agent misuses the DPOA. The article concludes
There is no easy answer to the problem of elder financial abuse. There is no silver bullet. Elder financial abuse is a problem that is only going to get worse. We as attorneys can’t prevent all financial abuse, but we need to be aware of, and adopt, measures that reduce the risk of durable power of attorney abuse. The threat can never be eliminated, but with communication and education, it can be minimized.
Thanks to the article's author, Michael J. Polk, for sending me the link to the article.
May 9, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Health Care/Long Term Care, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)
Thursday, May 5, 2016
Ever think humans need to come with a user's manual to explain the aging process? According to the Washington Post article on April 22, 2016, help is on the way. ‘Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide’: What you really need to know about life’s later years reviews “Old Age: A Beginner’s Guide.” The article describes the author
Kinsley is both realistic and remarkably cheerful in writing about aging, death and his own health in this brief collection of essays, some of which have appeared in Time, the New Yorker and elsewhere. The book is framed as a guide to old age for Kinsley’s contemporaries. “Sometimes I feel like a scout for my generation,” he writes, “sent out ahead to experience in my fifties what even the healthiest boomers are going to experience in their sixties, seventies or eightes.”
He describes the Boomers as wanting longevity but really wanting cognition. The Post describes the book as a fun and informative read.
Whether offering a final set of goals for achievement-oriented boomers, describing his DBS (deep brain stimulation) surgery, debating stem-cell research or defending his decision after the Parkinson’s diagnosis (“I chose denial”), Kinsley, a contributing columnist to The Washington Post, is refreshingly straightforward and often wickedly funny.
Tuesday, May 3, 2016
The New York Times ran a story on May 2, 2016 that South Dakota is under investigation by the federal government for improperly placing many residents with disabilities in nursing homes instead of providing care in the community. South Dakota Wrongly Puts Thousands in Nursing Homes, Government Says reports that "the Justice Department said ... that thousands of patients were being held unnecessarily in sterile, highly restrictive group homes. That is discrimination, it said, making South Dakota the latest target of a federal effort to protect the civil rights of people with disabilities and mental illnesses, outlined in a Supreme Court decision 17 years ago."
As the story notes, many individuals need the level of care provided by a nursing home, but others do not. "But for untold numbers of others — with mental illnesses, developmental disabilities or chronic diseases — the confines of a nursing home can be unnecessarily isolating. Yet when patients seek help paying for long-term care, states often steer them toward nursing homes, even though it may not be needed." The article discusses the Olmstead decision and the government's strategies in these cases to challenge the placement.
South Dakota responded that they have made progress but the federal government sees it as not enough, especially since this is not a recent situation. "In-home health aides can be less expensive than nursing homes because they do not provide unnecessary services. States, though, face a chicken-or-egg conundrum. Does money go to nursing homes because beds are often more readily available than in-home services? Or are there fewer in-home services because less Medicaid money is spent on them? And nursing homes have little financial incentive to encourage patients to seek in-home care...."
This article can be a great starting point for an interesting discussion with students.
The New York Times ran an article by a doctor, When the Patient Won’t Ever Get Better, which illustrates a difficult scenario for patients and families. A patient, doing well, is hospitalized for some condition, surgery may occur and although successful, subsequently the patient develops one health problem after another, and will never recover to her condition prior to the hospitalization. Detailing the ups and downs of one patient, the doctor describes the patient "[a]nd then, things stopped getting better. Time slowed. There she was – neither dead nor truly alive – stuck, it seemed, in limbo." The patient declined again, more infections, use of a ventilator, etc. and then "[w]ith ... [the] constellation of ventilation dependence, infections and delirium, she had what doctors call 'chronic critical illness.'”
According to the author, this isn't that unusual a story.
[T]here are about 100,000 chronically critically ill patients in the United States at any one time, and with an aging population and improving medical technologies, this number is only expected to grow. The outcomes of these patients are staggeringly poor. Half of the chronically critically ill will die within a year, and only around 10 percent will ever return to independent life at home.
We can all imagine the scenario where our parent has a health crisis and all we want to know is whether she survived and is she "stable." After time passes, we learn that she is stable, but is chronically critically ill and won't improve. Here's how the author describes the situation
In the early moments of critical illness, the choices seem relatively simple, the stakes high – you live or you die. But the chronically critically ill inhabit a kind of in-between purgatory state, all uncertainty and lingering. How do we explain this to families just as they breathe a sigh of relief that their loved one hasn’t died? Should we use the words “chronic critical illness”? Would it change any decisions if we were to do so? ....
Perhaps this reality would be a good situation to use to discuss with our students whether they can draft language in an advance directive to deal with these situations.
Sunday, May 1, 2016
We've all been reading the articles about global warming and the impact on the planet, and on us. Although Earth Day is a couple of weeks past us, there's even more reason to think about the future of the planet. The Washington Post ran the article Why living around nature could make you live longer. The article highlights a recent study that indicates that not only is living near nature good for your health, it may help you live longer! The study was published on April 14, 2016 in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), Exposure to Greenness and Mortality in a Nationwide Prospective Cohort Study of Women. Here are some excerpts from abstract from the EHP article: "Objectives: We aimed to examine the prospective association between residential greenness and mortality... Conclusions: Higher levels of green vegetation were associated with decreased mortality. Policies to increase vegetation may provide opportunities for physical activity, reduce harmful exposures, increase social engagement, and improve mental health. While planting vegetation may mitigate effects of climate change, evidence of an association between vegetation and lower mortality rates suggests it also might be used to improve health."
Now, back to the Washington Post story, which tells us "[t]his is all in line with the ways previous research has suggested greenness can affect health. Places with more vegetation are generally thought to be less polluted, and the presence of vegetation, itself, can help keep air cleaner. And green spaces like parks can help encourage people to get outside, exercise and engage with other people — all factors that can improve overall health. The effects on mental health may be somewhat less straightforward, but nonetheless important, as this study suggested." As far as mental health, the article notes that social engagement and human's long term connection with nature is rejuvenating.
The article quotes one of the authors that more study is needed on the "finer details" of our interacting with nature. But for now, go outside and take a walk (and maybe buy some houseplants, too).