Mayor's proclamation is first to dedicate October to elder care

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Warwick residents in long-term care and older Americans are standing up in support of Residents’ Rights Month this October.

All October, the Alliance for Better Long-Term Care, and the Ombudsman are nationally celebrating Residents’ Rights Month as well as Older Americans Month. The month is dedicated to those who are of 65 years and older, and Rhode Island is taking steps to make sure that all residents living in nursing homes, assisted living, or hospice care know their rights.

Joanne Leonard, the Chief Operations Officer of the Alliance, couldn’t be happier that the “Mayor is signing and giving the Alliance a proclamation saying that it’s Residents’ Rights Month” and that it “shows that Warwick stands for the quality of care for its residents.”

This Stand for Quality proclamation is the first in the nation to recognize Residents’ Rights Month, and states that there are 1.3 million individuals living in 15,600 nursing homes; and over 800,000 individuals living in 28,900 assisted living/residential care facilities in the U.S. It also recognizes that the federal Nursing Home Reform Act of 1987 guarantees residents their individual rights in order to promote and maintain their dignity and autonomy.

“Rhode Island is six on the list of most elderly in the United States per capita” Leonard said, “Just in Warwick, we have six nursing homes with 618 beds, and seven assisted living facilities with 623 beds.”

At a Sept. 18 meeting with the mayor where he presented the proclamation, Kathleen Heren, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman for the Alliance said, “Most residents don’t know that it’s Residents’ Rights Month unless somebody actually tells them. Their rights are important to them, but a lot of times when they come into the nursing homes, there is so much paperwork they have to do on the admission process that somebody will get their bill of rights, but it doesn’t get read. That’s why we give out laminated handouts and we’ll go in with a Residents Council to make them aware of their rights.”

This annual event designated by the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care was created in 1981 to nationally acknowledge those citizens living in long-term facilities. This month is used to raise awareness for the federal Nursing Home Reform Law, which guarantees those living in assisted care have individual dignity, choice, and self-determination. Additionally, this law requires nursing homes to promote, and protect the rights of each resident.

Formerly known as the National Citizens’ Coalition for Nursing Home Reform (NCCNHR), the National Consumer Voice was formed in 1975 when the National Gray Panther’s LTC Action Project brought long-term care ombudsman programs together. This group formed a voice that protested the Vietnam War, cuts to Medicare, and Social Security. Additionally, in 1987 the group presented the Campaign for Quality Care to Congress that set forth a national passage into the Nursing Home Reform Act. The Consumer Voice changed their name to the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long-Term Care in 2010 following their 35th anniversary and the change to the name came from their 2005 theme of “Working Together for Quality Long-Term Care”.  

The Rhode Island Department of Elderly Affairs originally operated the Long-Term care ombudsman program with the goal of enhancing the lives and care of nursing home residents. In 1995 the General Assembly, Alliance for Better Nursing Home Care, and DEA created the R.I Long Term Care Ombudsperson Act in order for assisted living and residential care facilities to expand. “The Alliance protects the rights of elderly and disabled who live in long-term care since 1979, and the Ombudsman program nationally started in 1998” Leonard remarked.

In his proclamation Mayor Solomon encouraged all citizens of Rhode Island to stand with him for quality in all aspects of residents’ experiences, whether it be quality care, quality of life, quality of services or being provided quality choices.

Elise Swearingen, Director of Marketing and Engagement of the Office of Healthy Aging (formerly the Office of Elderly Affairs), said that she thought the mayor signing the proclamation was, “Really cool for Rhode Island. Senior isolation and mistreatment is real, and it’s nice to see that Rhode Island is being proactive about it.”

“The biggest part of this whole thing is to understand that when you go into a long-term care facility or go into a nursing home, you don’t lose your right to vote,” Heren said. “My office enforces that older Americans have a right to speak their mind, a right to make choices, and a right to say what they want.”

Executive Officer for the U.S Health and Human Services, Paul Jacobson remarked, “Seniors are raising their grandkids nowadays and they aren’t being paid for it. That’s something I know that within the United States is really becoming a major issue.”

Afterwards, Jennifer Throwe of the Administration on Community Living added, “More and more grandparents between the ages of 45 and 55 find themselves caring for their grandchildren full-time, and it’s not what they anticipated.”

More information about Residents’ Rights Month can be found at theconsumervoice.org and everyone is encouraged to visit friends or family in assisted living facilities, volunteer as a long-term ombudsman, or volunteer in a facility.

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