Funding for Seniors in Raimondo’s FY 2020 Budget Blueprint

Published in the Woonsocket Call on January 27, 2019

By Herb Weiss

Almost two weeks ago, Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo formerly unveiled her $9.9 billion budget proposal to the Rhode Island General Assembly. The House and Senate Finance Committees then begin the task of holding hearings on budget plan, getting feedback from the administration and the public. Once the revised estimates of tax revenue and social-services spending is available in May, negotiations seriously begin between Raimondo, the House Speaker and Senate President to craft the House’s budget proposal. Lawmakers will hammer out and pass a final state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Local media coverage of Raimondo’s ambitious spending initiatives zeroed in on her call for expanding free tuition to Rhode Island College and adding some public pre-kindergarten, increasing minimum wage from $ 10.50 to $ 11.10 per hour, allowing mobile sports betting and legalizing recreational marijuana.

But, Raimondo’s budget proposal gives state lawmakers a road map for what programs and services are needed for a state with a graying population.

According to Meghan Connelly, DEA’s Spokesperson, a nearly 60 percent increase in the State’s population of residents aged 65 and older from the years 2016 to 2040 highlights the need for continued investments in programs servicing Rhode Island’s older adults and their family caregivers.

Connelly says Raimondo’s budget proposal, released on January 17, elevates Elderly Affairs from a division under the Department of Human Services to an Office within the Executive Office of Health and Human Services. The governor shifts financing for the office and 31.0 FTE positions to EOHHS to accomplish this recommended action.

“The projected increase in the state’s senior population – from 174,000 in 2016 to 265,000 by 2040 – coupled with the proven impact of community-based supports and services, highlights the need for continuing to invest in helping our seniors remain home, connected to their families and networks. Support of aging-related health-promotion initiatives are essential to maintain a high quality of life for Rhode Island seniors while minimizing aging-related healthcare costs,” says Connelly

“We are focused on making it easier for older adults to live independent, fulfilling lives for as long as possible,” said Michelle Szylin, Acting Director of the Division of Elderly Affairs. “The Co-Pay expansion [in the governor’s proposed budget] enables additional older adults to age-in-place, remaining safely in their homes and engaging in their communities.”

The Co-Pay expansion enables additional older adults to age-in-place, remaining safely in their homes and engaging in their communities. The governor’s proposal to expand the state’s Co-Pay program [by $ 550,000] will allow more seniors to reside in their communities, staying connected to their family and network of friends and neighbors.

Providing access to the Co-Pay program to individuals earning up to 250% of the Federal Poverty Level will allow more seniors to age-in-place with a better quality of life and delay nursing home admission. The DEA Co-Pay program was established in 1986 as an option for elders who would otherwise be ineligible for subsidized home and community care assistance because they did not qualify for the Rhode Island Medical Assistance program.

Recognizing the importance of the state’s Elderly Transportation Program to keep older Rhode Islander’s independent, Raimondo’s budget proposal calls for additional funding of $1.8 million from general funds to support the State’s elderly transportation program. This program provides non-emergency transportation benefits to Rhode Islanders age 60 and over who do not have access to any means of transportation. The program provides transportation to and from medical appointments, adult day care, meal sites, dialysis/cancer treatment and the Insight Program.

Raimondo’s proposed budget also increases Health Facilities regulation staffing to increase the number of inspections to state-licensed health care facilities. The governor recommends a $327,383 increase in restricted receipt funds for 3.0 FTE positions. These positions will bolster existing staffing to increase the number of inspections to state-licensed healthcare facilities.

The Governor’s proposed FY 2020 budget also through the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority continues to subsidize the transit of elderly and disabled Rhode Islanders through the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority.

Raimondo’s proposed budget also continues the support for the Independent Provider model P model with almost $200,000 in general revenue funds budgeted (about $770,000 all funds) to cover implementation costs. The goal of this model is to increase workforce capacity and create a new option for delivery of direct support services for both seniors and people with developmental disabilities.

Finally, the governor’s FY 2020 budget also allocates funding to an array of programs and services for seniors. Here’s a sampling: $800,000 to support the state’s senior centers through a grant process (the amount was doubled last year); $ 530,000 to support Meals on Wheels; $ 85,000 to implement security measures in elderly housing complexes; $ 169,000 for the long-term care ombudsman through the Alliance for Better Long Term Care, which advocates on behalf of residents of nursing homes, assisted living residences and certain other facilities, as well as recipients of home care services; and $ 500,000 funds the state’s Home Modifications program at Governor’s Commission on Disabilities.

Nursing Facility Provides Take a Hit

Raimondo’s proposed budget plan seeks to freeze the state’s Medicaid payment rates to hospitals, slashing funding by an estimated $15 million overall for the year, and to limit the rate increase for nursing homes to 1%, costing them nursing home providers about $4 million.
“We are beginning the budget process with a 1 percent increase in the COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment), says Scott Fraser, President and CEO of Rhode Island Health Care Association (RIHCA), warning that “this is not enough.”

“Since 2012, nursing facility costs have risen 21.6 percent while Medicaid payment rates have only gone up by 9.6 percent, adds Fraser, noting that by statute, rates are supposed to be adjusted annually for inflation. “We will be advocating for additional funding for nursing facilities throughout the remainder of the budget process,” he warns.

Jim Nyberg, Director LeadingAge RI, an organization representing not-for-profit providers of aging services, joins with RIHCA in calling on Rhode Island lawmakers to restore the full inflation adjustment. “Ongoing increases in minimum wage (up 42 percent since 2012) make it harder for publicly funded providers to compete for skilled workers,” says Nyberg, noting that most of his nonprofit nursing homes have 60 percent to 70 percent of their residents on Medicaid. “A rate increase is needed help nursing homes recruit and retain the direct care workers that are so critical to providing quality care,” he says.

“Since 2016, our nursing homes and consumers have been severely disrupted by UHIP, financially and operationally. The ongoing problems with Medicaid application approvals and payments has resulted in significant increases in staff workload just to maintain operations, let alone the impact on cash flow and financial stability, adds Nybrg.

Nyberg’s group is also advocating to expand the CoPay program for individuals under the age of 65 with dementia. “This has been proposed in the past but not included in this budget. We think that such an expansion will help this at-risk population for whom no publicly-funded programs and services currently exist,” he says.

Lawmakers, AARP Rhode Island Gives Comments

AARP Rhode Island is encouraged to see that the Governor placed an increase in the State Budget for the Department of Elderly Affairs home healthcare Co-Pay program,” said AARP Rhode Island Advocacy Director John DiTomasso. “By increasing the income eligibility from 200% of the poverty level to 250%, more older Rhode Islanders will be able to obtain home care services at reduced hourly rates,” he added. “This will help large numbers of people to extend the time they can age in place in their home and in their community rather than in more costly state-paid long-term care facilities,” says DiTomasso.

Senate President Dominick J. Ruggerio says, “Upon a first look at the budget, I am very pleased that some of the Senate’s top priorities are incorporated. The Governor had to close a significant deficit, and difficult choices had to be made. However, the budget is a statement of priorities, and initiatives like the no-fare bus pass program for low-income seniors and disabled Rhode Islanders are a priority for us in the Senate. I am very pleased to see this program funded in the budget, along with many other services for seniors, and I look forward to deeper analysis of all aspects of the budget in the months ahead.”

AddsD House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello, “The House Finance Committee will soon begin holding public hearings and reviewing every aspect of the Governor’s budget proposal. We will make certain that the level of care and services to older adults will be maintained and hopefully enhanced. We are facing significant budget challenges this year, but we will always keep the needs of our seniors at the forefront of the discussions.”

Older Rhode Islanders and aging groups must continue to push the House to at a minimal maintain the governor’s senior agenda. Hopefully, as Mattiello said, senior programs and services can be enhanced.

For a Senate Fiscal Analysis of Raimondo’s FY 2020 budget, go to http://www.rilegislature.gov/sfiscal/Budget%20Analyses/FY2020%20SFO%20Governor’s%20Budget%20-%20First%20Look.pdf.

Questions Raised About the State’s New Independent Provider Program

Published in the Woonsocket Call on July 15, 2018

In the waning days of the 2018 legislative session, the Rhode Island General Assembly passed legislation (S 2734 Sub A, H 7803 Sub A) that establishes in the Ocean State the “Independent Provider” (IP) model of at-home care, which allows consumers to hire and manage caregivers of their own choice while the state takes on certain responsibilities, such as setting caregivers’ wages, qualification standards and hours. With Gov. Gina M. Raimondo’s signature, the legislation became law on June 29th.

The enacted legislation is backed by the Rhode Island Campaign for Home Care Independence and Choice, a coalition that includes the Senior Agenda Coalition, RI Working Families Party, RI Organizing Project, District 1199 SEIU New England, RI AFL-CIO, Economic Progress Institute and the RI Chapter of the National Organization of Women (NOW). But, although on the losing side of the legislative debate the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care continues to express its concern about the impact on the delivery by IPs to seniors and persons with disability.

Overwhelming Support on Smith Hill

The health care legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Whip Maryellen Goodwin (D-Providence) and Rep. Christopher R. Blazejewski (D-Providence), easily passed both the House and Senate Chambers. The Senate Committee on Labor unanimously passed the measure by a 9-0 vote. By a count of 33-0, the legislation easily passed on the Senate floor. Meanwhile, in the other chamber, the House Committee of Finance put its stamp of approval on the measure by a vote of 13-0, with the legislation ultimately passing of the House floor by a vote of 60-11. But, because the House amended the bill (in committee and on the floor), it had to come back to the Senate for consideration again. The Senate vote on the revised legislation was 28-3.

In a statement announcing the new law, Goodwin and Blazejewski, say “By increasing both availability and quality of at-home care options, the new law’s ultimate goal is to move Rhode Island toward greater use of care in the community rather than in nursing facilities, since at-home care is both more comfortable and satisfying for consumers and less expensive than nursing facilities.”

“Presently, Rhode Island ranks 42nd in the nation in terms of investment in home care. Ninety percent of older Americans prefer home care. Not only is it more comfortable for seniors, it’s more cost-effective, as we’ve seen in states like Massachusetts. High-quality home care is what people want, and it saves money. I’m proud to support this effort to help make excellent home care available to more Rhode Islanders,” said Goodwin.

Adds, Blazejewski, “There is little question that people prefer to stay in their homes as long as possible. Particularly now, as the over-65 population in our state is rapidly expanding, Rhode Island must shift more of our long-term care resources toward supporting home care. Our legislation will help provide more options for home-based services, enhance access to them and establish standards that assure high-quality care.”

Hiring, Finding and Managing a Caregiver

Currently around 77 percent of Medicaid funding for long-term services and supports goes to nursing facility care rather than community-based care. Those who use community-based care generally go through agencies or find, hire and manage a caregiver on their own. This bill would create a third option.

Under the Independent Provider model, which has been in place in Massachusetts since 2008, consumers would still be the direct employer who determines when to hire or fire an employee, but the state would take on responsibilities for maintaining a registry of qualified caregivers, and would set parameters such as rates, qualifications and hours.

While the new law stipulates that they are not employees of the state, it would give home care workers the right to collectively bargain with the state over those parameters. Allowing them to organize would ensure that this otherwise dispersed workforce has a unified voice and a seat at the table to tackle the issues facing Rhode Island’s long term services and supports system, said the sponsors.

Consumers in states with independent provider models report higher levels of client satisfaction and autonomy, received more stable worker matches, improved medical outcomes, and reduced unmet need with agencies delivering fewer hours of care relative to the needs of the consumer.

In testimony supporting the health care legislation, Director Charles J. Fogarty, of Rhode Island’s Division of Elderly Affairs (DEA), told lawmakers that the health care legislation supports two goals of DEA, first it would enable elderly and disabled Rhode Islanders who are medically able to stay at home and second, it would address Rhode Island’s direct service provider workforce shortage.

Fogarty said it’s critical for older adults and people with disabilities to have access to the quality of care that is right for them. “In some cases, care from an independent provider they know and trust will best meet their needs to remain independent. In other cases, a home care agency will be the right fit. And for some, particularly those with complex medical needs, our quality nursing homes are the right option,” he said.

When quizzed asked about The Rhode Island Health Care Association’s position, Virginia Burke, President and CEO, recognized the value of home care in the state’s long-term care continuum but stressed that residents in the state’s nursing facilities “are too sick or impaired to mange at home.” She said, “Our only concern with this proposal is the suggestion that it could drain Medicaid funding from the frailest and most vulnerable among our elders in order to pay for a new Medicaid service. Surely our elders deserve good quality and compassionate care in all settings.”

Calling for More Education, State Oversight of IPs

While most who testified before the Senate and House panel hearings came to tout the benefits of bringing IP caregivers into the homes of older Rhode Islanders and persons with disabilities, Nicholas A. Oliver, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care, sees problems down the road and calls the new policy “duplicative and costly.”

In written testimony, if the legislation is passed Oliver warns that Rhode Island will be authorizing untrained and unsupervised paraprofessionals to deliver healthcare to the state’s most frail seniors without Department of Health oversight, without adherence to national accreditation standards for personal care attendant service delivery and without protections against fraud, waste and abuse.

Furthermore, his testimony expressed concern over the lack of oversight as to the quality of care provided by IPs to their older or disabled clients. Although the legislation called for supervision from the Director of Human Services (DHS), this state agency does not have the mandated legislative authority to investigate IPs to ensure that patient safety is met and the recipients of care are protected against harm in their homes. Nor does it require daily supervision for adherence to the patient’s authorized plan of care, he says, noting that is a requirement for licensed home health and hospice agencies.

Oliver observes that the legislation does not require IPs to receive the same level of intensive training that Certified Nursing Assistances (CNAs) receive from their home health care and hospice agencies. While the state requires all CNAs to complete 120 hours of initial training, pass a written and practical examination, become licensed by the Department of Health and maintain a license by completing a minimum of 12 hours of in-service training annually, the legislation only requires IPs to take three hours of generalized training and no continuing in-service training is required.

CNAs deliver the same personal care attendant services as the IPs but have a specific scope of practices that they must follow as regulated by the Department of Health and their licensure board while IPs do not have these requirements, says Oliver.

Finally, Oliver says that “to ensure quality of care [provided by home care and hospice agencies], CNAs are supervised by a registered nurse (RN) that is actively involved in the field and who is available to respond to both the patient’s and the CNA’s needs on-demand to reduce risk of patient injury, harm or declining health status and to reduce risk of CNA injury, harm or improper delivery of personal care.” IPs do not have this supervision., he says.

Safe guards are put in place by home health and hospice agencies to ensure the safety of patient and direct care staff, says Oliver, noting that these agencies are nationally accredited by The Joint Commission, the Community Health Accreditation Program (CHAP) or the Accreditation Commission for Health Care (ACHC) in partnership with the Department of Health for compliance of state and federal rules and regulations, as well as national clinical standards for personal care attendant service delivery.

With the Rhode Island General Assembly bringing IPs into the state’s health care delivery system, the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services, granted authority by the legislation to develop the program, might just consider establishing a Task Force of experts to closely monitor the progress of the new IP program’s implementation to ensure that quality of care is being provided and to make suggestions for legislative fixes next year if operational problems are identified. Unanticipated consequences of implementing new rules and regulations do happen and every effort should be state policy makers that this does will not happen in Rhode Island with the creation of the new IP program.

To watch Oliver talk about the Rhode Island Partnership for Home Care’s opposition to the enactment of IP legislation that would increase state involvement in the home care sector, go to http://m.golocalprov.com/live/nicholas-oliver.

Palliative Care Can Provide Comfort to Dying Residents

Published in Woonsocket Call on May 10, 2015

           A recently published study, by Brown University researchers, takes a look at end-of-life care in America’s nursing facilities, seeking to answer the question, is knowledge and access to information on palliative associated with a reduced likelihood of aggressive end-of-life treatment?

Brown researchers say when a nursing facility resident is dying, oftentimes aggressive interventions like inserting a feeding tube or sending the patient to the emergency room can futilely worsen, rather than relieve, their distress. While palliative care can pull resources together in a facility to provide comfort at the end of a resident’s life, the knowledge of it varies among nursing directors.  A new large national study found that the more nursing directors knew about palliative care, the lower the likelihood that their patients would experience aggressive end-of-life care.

Susan C. Miller, professor (research) of health services, policy and practice in the Brown University School of Public Health and lead author of the study in the Journal of Palliative Medicine, published March 16, 2015, worked with colleagues to survey nursing directors at more than 1,900 nursing facilities across the nation between July 2009 and June 2010.  The researchers hoped to learn more about their knowledge of palliative care and their facility’s implementation of key palliative care practices.

Knowledge Is Power

According to the findings of the Brown study, the first nationally representative sample of palliative care familiarity at nursing homes, more than one in five of the surveyed directors had little or no basic palliative care knowledge, although 43 percent were fully versed.

“While the Institute of Medicine has called for greater access to skilled palliative care across settings, the fact that one in five U.S. nursing home directors of nursing had very limited palliative care knowledge demonstrates the magnitude of the challenge in many nursing homes,” Miller said. “Improvement is needed as are efforts to facilitate this improvement, including increased Medicare/Medicaid surveyor oversight of nursing home palliative care and quality indicators reflecting provision of high-quality palliative care,” she said, noting that besides quizzing the directors the researchers also analyzed Medicare data on the 58,876 residents who died during the period to identify the type of treatments they experienced when they were dying.

When researchers analyzed palliative care knowledge together with treatment at end of life, they found that the more directors knew about basic palliative care, the lower likelihood that nursing facility residents would experience feeding tube insertion, injections, restraints, suctioning, and emergency room or other hospital trips. Meanwhile, residents in higher-knowledge facilities also had a higher likelihood of having a documented six-month prognosis.

The study shows only an association between palliative care knowledge and less aggressive end-of-life care, the authors say, noting that knowledge leads to improved care, but it could also be that at nursing facilities with better care in general, there is also greater knowledge.  But if there is a causal relationship, then it could benefit thousands of nursing facilities residents every year for their nursing home caregivers to learn more about palliative care, the authors conclude.

Progress in Providing End-of-Life Care

Virginia M. Burke, J.D. President and CEO of the non-profit Rhode Island Health Care Association, said, “We were gratified that the authors found that most of the nursing directors who responded to their survey gave correct answers on all (43% of respondents) or most (36%of respondents) of the “knowledge” questions on palliative care.  We were also gratified to see that the number of hospitalizations during the last thirty days of life has declined significantly over the past ten years, as has the number of individuals who receive tube feedings during their last thirty days.  The need for continued progress is clear.”

Burke, representing three-quarters of Rhode Island’s skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers, adds, “It is not at all surprising that greater understanding of palliative care leads to better application of palliative care.”

The states’s nursing facilities are committed to providing person-centered end of life care, says Burke, noting that according to the National Palliative Care Research Center, Rhode Island’s hospitals are among the top performers for palliative care.  “We suspect that our state’s nursing facilities are as well.  We would be very interested in state specific results in order to see any areas where we can improve.”

Says spokesperson Director Michael Raia, of Rhode Island’s Health & Human Services Agency, “We need to provide the right care in the right place at the right time for all patients.”

When it comes to nursing facilities, Raia calls for reversing the payment incentives so that facilities are rewarded for providing better quality care and having better patient outcomes.  He notes that the Reinventing Medicaid Act of 2015 reinvests nursing home reimbursement rate savings into newly created incentive pools for nursing homes and long-term care providers that reward facilities for providing better quality care, including higher quality palliative care.

Bringing Resources to Families

With caregiving one of AARP’s most important issues, it’s no surprise that the organization provides a great deal of guidance on palliative care, stressing that “it involves organizations and professionals coming together to meet a person’s needs both in terms of pain management, along with emotional and spiritual perspectives,” said AARP State Director Kathleen Connell.

Connell says that “It’s is truly a team effort in which nursing home staff become key players. The resources are important to patient with chronic and terminal issues. Their families need help, too. So it is important any time we learn more about ways we can address this very important healthcare need.”

Adds Connell, “In Rhode Island, I’m confident that we have nursing homes that are dedicated to easing the difficulty of this particularly stressful stage of life. They give patients and their families enormous comfort. We certainly applaud their compassion and hope the report is helpful anywhere it identifies a need for improvement,” adds Connell.

AARP’s Caregiving Resource Center (http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/) includes an End of Life section. Check out a specific palliative care resource at  http://assets.aarp.org/external_sites/caregiving/multimedia/EG_PalliativeCare.html

To read the Brown Palliative Care Study go to http://online.liebertpub.com/doi/abs/10.1089/jpm.2014.0393.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12 is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues.  He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.