Massachusetts Nursing Homes Given New Care Standards for Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia Patients

The rapidly growing population of people afflicted with Alzheimer’s Disease, has, both fortunately and unfortunately, given rise to a new sub-industry of the broader nursing home industry: “Alzheimer’s Care Centers,” and “Alzheimer’s Specialty Facilities.” With names like these (and similar,) the public has been led to believe that these facilities possess some type of “specialty” designation or certification, isolated medical credentialing, or particular and highly –focused training. For years, families have placed their trust in these nursing homes and care centers, believing they had specialized skills and insights that a “regular” Massachusetts nursing home wouldn’t have.

In most instances, those beliefs were induced by nothing more than slick marketing language, targeting an ever-growing medical market for this ever-growing patient population. The reality behind the marketing? Aside from the advertising, most of these facilities possessed little more substantive knowledge or nursing home patient care skills than the “average” nursing home. That’s the ‘unfortunate’ part of this growing industry: It capitalizes on an exploding market with claims of “unique” skills and “specialized patient care” for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients – when in reality most of them neither possess nor practice any more substantive care regimens or skill sets than “ordinary” nursing homes.

Thankfully, a great step forward was taken today, when the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (Mass. DPH) finalized new regulations for the care of dementia patients. The standards were originally proposed in August 2013 by the Massachusetts DPH. Those standards were finalized today by the Massachusetts Public Health Council, which is a state-appointed group of academic and public health experts that sets policy standards in areas of public health. The impetus for these new standards was a bill passed by the Massachusetts Legislature almost two years ago, requiring minimum training and qualification standards for specialized dementia care units. As part of the new regulations, facilities will be required to have at least one “therapeutic activities director” dedicated to the dementia unit, to ensure meaningful and appropriate activities for residents.

The new rules close a dangerous loophole that had allowed nursing homes to advertise “Dementia Care Units”

• Without providing any specific training for their employees,
• Without providing any specialized activities for residents,
• Without ensuring that safety measures were taken and monitored, such as high fences, to prevent Alzheimer’s patients and other dementia patients from wandering away from the facility grounds – a constant and serious risk for these patients.

Not unexpectedly, nursing home operators resisted many of the proposed changes, particularly the requirement for a six-foot fence around facilities with Alzheimer’s and dementia care units, to prevent these patients from wandering and getting lost. A compromise was reached when the Public Health Council changed the 6-foot requirement, to instead require a “fence or barrier to prevent injury and elopement.” Equally unsurprising, several nursing home operators also objected to a regulation that requires nursing homes with dementia care units to institute the specialized new employee training within 90 days after the rules go into effect. Thankfully, the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire and other nursing home patient advocates argued that the time frame was actually too long. The new rules also mandate ALL licensed nursing homes, and not just those with special dementia units, to provide dementia-specific training for all direct-care employees within 180 days.

Confirming the growing population of Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, regulators this training must be mandated, due to the fact that approximately 60 percent of nursing home residents suffer from some form of dementia.

This is the proverbial “good start.” It is not – and must not be – the end of the battle to ensure that Massachusetts nursing home patients are cared for better than many now are. As a Dedham Massachusetts nursing home neglect lawyer, I have seen far, far too many cases of Massachusetts nursing home abuse and neglect – and the vast majority of these cases not surprisingly involve Alzheimer’s patients and dementia patients. Trust me, what goes on in many nursing homes would grey your hair and bring tears to your eyes. If more people knew of the misery and suffering that takes place in nursing homes – and realized that they, too, could end up in a nursing home one day – they’d protest all day long. Unfortunately, the thought of these issues too scary and too depressing for most people. They look the other way.

I thank God for the wonderful and admirable advocacy efforts of the Alzheimer’s Association, which is the leading watchdog and public policy advocate on this subject. If you can, please visit their site to offer whatever support you can for their critically important efforts.

Remember, getting old, infirm and mentally weak is something that we will all face.