In the next 15 years, one in five Oklahomans will be 65 or older. That's a startling statistic, considering that the state's nursing homes just got an F rating from Families for Better Care. The organization ranked Oklahoma 48th in the nation in the overall quality of nursing home care.
A number of factors explained Oklahoma's poor performance:
The ratio of direct care staff — nurses, aides, therapists — to the number of residents is the single most important determinant in the quality of care received by nursing home residents. Facilities staffing at the minimum legal ratio frequently place in the lower quadrant of the Families for Better Care report card. Unfortunately, Oklahoma's minimum staffing ratios haven't been adjusted to address the increasingly acute conditions of residents.
Oklahoma statutes relating to staffing ratios include a “trigger” that, when reached, would increase staffing levels. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority maintains that Oklahoma hasn't reached this trigger. I believe that Oklahoma has reached the trigger due to the higher level of care now required by needy and frail residents. Oklahomans must change this situation.
The state Health Department and state long-term care ombudsman program investigate quality-of-care issues and complaints. Oklahoma's average number of reported and investigated deficiencies is twice what most other states report.
Oklahoma has more “for-profit” nursing homes than almost any other state. Oklahoma's statistics: 85 percent for-profit, 11 percent nonprofit and 4 percent public. According to the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, in 2006 deficiencies in for-profit nursing homes averaged 31 percent higher than in nonprofit nursing homes. Oklahomans can help rectify this quality-of-care gap by reporting all nursing homes not following individualized care plans or providing subpar treatment, by contacting the Health Department at (800) 522-0203.
Attracting and retaining a qualified workforce in nursing homes is a significant problem. What's your perception of nursing homes? Do you see visiting and caring for Oklahoma's older population as a profession worthy of consideration? There are many heroes and heroines who choose this profession and add countless joy and longevity to older Oklahomans' lives. The recruitment of such individuals begins with Oklahoma's citizenry showing how much it values the professional individuals who care for our elderly neighbors.
Everyone ages. Not all of us are fortunate enough to have ample savings to provide for our care or to have family members who'll be able to take care of us in our latter years. As the number of older Oklahomans continues to increase rapidly, the state will require residences where individuals can get professional and caring oversight in the twilight of life.
Let's not allow another day to pass without expressing our commitment to improving the state's poor rankings. Before we know it, we'll all be faced with this question: Who will take care of me?
Clark, of Ponca City, is a member of the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature and the Oklahoma Council on Aging.