Patient advocates called on state lawmakers yesterday to close a loophole in Massachusetts law that allows nursing homes to advertise specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care units, even though their workers may have no training in caring for such patients.
About 200 supporters gathered at the State House to back a proposed law that would require the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which regulates nursing homes, to establish minimum standards for facilities with dementia care units.
“Although many offer excellent care, we do not have consistency in care,’’ said Thomas Croswell, chief operating officer of Tufts Health Plan and chairman of the public policy committee of the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire. “This puts consumers at risk.’’
A 2005 federal report said that 44 states had requirements governing training, staffing, security, and other matters for facilities that provided specialized dementia care.
The Massachusetts legislation would require all licensed nursing homes to provide dementia-specific training for all direct-care workers, activities directors, and supervisors.
Representative Alice Wolf, a Cambridge Democrat and House chairwoman of the Joint Committee on Elder Affairs, is cosponsoring the legislation. She said it is important to mandate dementia training for staff at all licensed facilities because more than half of people in nursing homes suffer from dementia, even if they are not living in specialized dementia care units.
Additionally, the legislation stipulates that there should be activities programs in dementia care units that provide activities geared to people with dementia.
Supporters said that too often nursing homes do not provide appropriate activities for dementia patients and that void can exacerbate agitation and wandering, two hallmark challenges with these patients.
Similar legislation has been proposed for the past seven years without success, supporters said. Earlier versions stipulated specific staffing levels for dementia care units, but opponents have said that higher staffing levels did not guarantee good care.
Scott Plumb - senior vice president of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association, a trade group for nursing homes - said in an e-mailed statement that his organization approves of the latest proposal.
“It empowers [the state] to develop reasonable requirements in areas such as activities, physical plant, and training and stays away from more controversial and potentially expensive issues such as minimum staffing requirements,’’ Plumb said.
A proposal to establish minimum standards of training is also included in a more sweeping blueprint for dementia care that was developed by the Alzheimer’s Association and a large coalition of support groups.
Ann Hartstein, secretary of the Executive Office of Elder Affairs, announced at the State House gathering that the Patrick administration had formally accepted that blueprint, which lays out goals to improve access to care and treatment of Alzheimer’s patients, support for caregivers, and other aspects of care over the next five years.