Group has long record of oversight of industry

June 14, 2009
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Citizens for Better Care turned 40 this year.

The statewide nonprofit advocacy group for residents of nursing homes was formed in 1969 as a grassroots effort that was undertaken by community activists and labor unions immediately following the creation of Medicare and Medicaid.

Why then? Because that was when the two public health insurance programs began providing taxpayer dollars to the nursing-home industry.

“So the industry just blossomed there, and these folks wanted it to have a consumer voice — some consumer protection — as this industry was just taking off. And we’ve been involved in helping residents, being involved in public policy and really anything related to long-term care for 40 years,” said Laura Champagne, CBC executive director, from the organization’s home office in Detroit.

Champagne said CBC has a permanent staff of 20 and a varying number of volunteers across the state. Some visit nursing homes to speak with residents and care directors, while others work in the organization’s satellite locations such as the one on 36th Street SE in Kentwood.

Steve Chambers is the program director and ombudsman for the West Michigan CBC office, which covers a western chunk of the state that stretches north from Benton Harbor to Ludington. He has been with the organization for about a year and said he has enjoyed being a part of the CBC’s worthwhile effort.

“We’re an advocacy group that specializes in consumers and long-term care. We’re able to enter any licensed long-term care facility to speak with residents and help them resolve any concerns, complaints or issues that they might be having with the care they’re receiving,” he said.

As to that care, Chambers said CBC can’t rate nursing homes or make a recommendation regarding one. His organization does, though, publicly comment on the local industry as a whole. And he said that industry is generally in need of more positive changes, most notably for the younger residents.

“We’d like to see a larger focus on individuals instead of a broader focus on making money. There is not much as far as individual-wise care, especially for younger people. There are many, many non-seniors residing in long-term care facilities currently, and most long-term care facilities currently are geared toward the elderly resident,” said Chambers.

“They don’t have specialized activities or outings or socialization for a younger resident. That’s pretty much nonexistent right now. But we’re there to help everyone. We don’t turn anyone away for any service. We’re there to provide advocacy for each and every long-term care consumer.”

Genworth Financial, a firm that offers long-term coverage, recently released its annual cost of care survey and found that nursing homes in Grand Rapids were the most expensive in the state and cost $13,000 a year more than the national average.

“Unfortunately, there is little regulation out there about what a nursing home can charge for a private-pay resident. It’s up to each corporation to set their own rate,” said Chambers.

“The majority of nursing-home residents, roughly 85 percent, are Medicaid recipients. Although those (cost) numbers are alarming, the majority of residents aren’t affected by the high cost. The majority of new admissions come from hospitals receiving Medicare coverage with supplemental insurance for a short-term stay.”

In addition to the high cost that private-pay residents face, the CBC is also concerned about the future of Medicaid in Michigan. Even more so following a May executive order from Gov. Jennifer Granholm that cut $53 million in general fund dollars from the state Department of Community Health for the current year’s fourth quarter. That cut chopped nearly $8.5 million from long-term care services.

“There certainly is concern about the governor’s executive order and what that is going to mean down the road. Is it going to compromise care due to a decrease in funding? If it’s going to mean that facilities aren’t going to take Medicaid admissions because of lower reimbursements? It’s certainly something that we’re watching closely,” he said.

“Facilities cannot turn away somebody because of their payer source. So it is something that, if someone is turned away, they certainly are encouraged to call us.”

CBC receives funding from a variety of sources that are largely dedicated to the state’s seniors and communities, including many local United Ways, Area Agencies on Aging and the Kent County Senior Millage.

Chambers said the West Michigan office has five volunteers and is always looking for more to either make site visits or work in the office.

“Most of our volunteers have had a loved one that had a stay in a long-term care facility and either were very pleased or very unpleased with what they saw in the facility and want to try to make a difference for other people,” he said.

Chambers said becoming involved with CBC isn’t all that difficult.

“They fill out an application and come to a basic interview. We just make sure there is no conflict of interest. Obviously, they can’t visit where they have a loved one residing in a long-term care facility. But they could go to a different facility,” he said.

“There is a couple days worth of training to talk to them about the rules and regulations of nursing facilities, what types of things to look for, how to assist residents who have a complaint, and things like that.”

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