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Lawmakers release four-bill package to increase accountability in long-term care facilities

Delaware Legislative Hall in Dover.
Roman Battaglia
Delaware Public Media
Delaware Legislative Hall in Dover.

State Sen. Spiros Mantzavinos (D-Newport) and State Rep. Kendra Johnson (D-Bear) introduce four bipartisan bills to address issues in long-term care facilities. Three of them focus on increasing accountability and improving regulation standards in assisted living and nursing homes.

Senate Bill 215 would require the Division of Health Care Quality (DHCQ) to conduct annual in-person inspections of Delaware’s assisted living facilities and nursing homes. State code currently only requires "regular" inspections of the roughly 80 facilities currently in operation in the state.

DHCQ noted at its budget hearing last week there are no vacancies in its compliance nurse positions, but there is a backlog of inspections, complaints and new applications to address.

Mantzavinos hopes these bills will provide the necessary financial support to remedy this issue.

“There will be a fiscal note attached, and it’s my hope that my colleagues in the Joint Finance Committee and the administration would be supportive to make sure that DHCQ has the resources to create this framework going forward.”

The fiscal note for this bill has not yet been filed.

House Bill 300 would require assisted living facilities currently unregulated by the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to maintain accreditation from an independent organization selected by the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services.

This bill would also require assisted living facilities that provide dementia care services to maintain a certification allowing them to provide this type of care and that it be approved by an independent accrediting organization.

"These additional layers of accountability will help make sure our moms, dads, friends, neighbors and fellow Delawareans are receiving the best and safest treatment possible," Johnson says.

Johnson and Mantzavinos are both sponsors on legislation filed last year aiming to improve care for those with dementia.

Senate Bill 150 awaits consideration in the Senate after being voted out of committee last year, which would bolster staffing training requirements for long-term care facilities that offer dementia care.

Senate Bill 151 would require all long-term care facilities that provide dementia services to complete a written notice on a form prepared by the Department of Health and Social Services, ensuring long-term care facilities are giving an honest account of the dementia care services they offer. This bill awaits consideration in the Senate Health & Social Services Committee.

The Long-Term Care Package also includes Senate Bill 216, which would double the current civil penalties for long-term care facility violations.

The fines have not been adjust since 2000, and these increases would adjust for inflation over the past 24 years.

Finally, Senate Bill 217 looks to strengthen the pipeline of healthcare workers from Delaware's higher learning institutions to address staffing issues at the state’s long-term care facilities

The bill would create a career-based scholarship program that incentivizes Delaware nursing students to pursue careers at the state’s long-term care facilities in exchange for financial aid.

The legislation would allow students to be loaned up to $5,000 a year to cover the cost of tuition, and if recipients work at a Delaware long-term care facility after graduation for four years, that loan becomes a grant.

Mantzavinos says he recognizes the shortage of healthcare workers across the industry, but the goal is to address the acute need for staff in nursing and assisted living homes.

“What this is is just the first step in trying to help do what we can to increase the supply of these critical nurses in long-term care," he says.

The bill requests $1 million for the incentive program and for it to be appropriated annually by the General Assembly.

The legislation is modeled after a similar scholarship program created in 2022 for speech-language pathologists and mental health professionals.

Founder of the Delaware Elder Care Advocacy Coalition Candace Esham says the organization supports the Long-Term Care Package.

"We are grateful for this legislation to ensure our residents of long-term care facilities receive quality care and live their life with dignity," Esham adds.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.
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