Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Separate and Unequal - Black Seniors are Not Getting the Care they Deserve

If there is one group of people that understands the effects of discrimination, it is African American seniors. After all, they’ve lived through a lot. According to a recent article in the Chicago Reporter, however, they may face one final insult when they go into a nursing home. According to the report, nursing homes where a majority of the residents are black are receiving significantly worse treatment than patients in homes with mostly white residents.

The data used by the Chicago Reporter was gathered from Medicare’s Nursing Home Compare Website. The website rates nursing homes based upon health inspections, staffing levels and other specific criteria. The researcher determined that the worst rating (a one on a five point scale) was given to 57 percent of black nursing homes and only 11 percent of white nursing homes. On the other end of the spectrum, the highest rating was given to no black nursing homes and 29 percent of homes with majority white residents. In addition, the black nursing homes had higher rates of malpractice and personal injury lawsuits.

A part of the disparity may be explained by staffing levels. Nearly 85 percent of black nursing homes received the lowest possible rating for “nursing staff hours” whereas only 21 percent of the white homes got that same rating. Similarly, the quality of the nursing home staff was rated much better in the white nursing homes.

Perhaps the most disturbing finding was that poverty did not change the results. The reporter concluded that “people in white homes got better care than those in black homes, even if both were poor.”

Most families do not have the opportunity to compare the quality of care provided at other nursing homes. As a result, the disparity between black and white nursing homes may be surprising. Many families, however, are not surprised to hear that residents are receiving inadequate care. On the contrary – they see examples of this every day.

There is much to be done to change public policy and improve care. The state needs to mandate higher staffing levels. The regulatory agencies may need to decertify more “repeat offender” nursing homes. Injured residents and their families may need to pursue their legal remedies more often. On an individual level, however, the best thing you can do is to seek out the best possible care. For some pointers on how to do that – you may wish to read our articles entitled Ten Tips for Choosing a Good Nursing Home and Recognizing and Responding to Nursing Home Neglect. (Links Below)

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