Massachusetts nursing homes will no longer be allowed to advertise "memory care" or similar services if they have not complied with requirements to ensure appropriate dementia care, under state rules issued last week aimed at clarifying widespread confusion.
The action by the Department of Public Health follows a July review by the Alzheimer's Association of Massachusetts and New Hampshire of how the state's nursing homes advertise their services. That review found nearly 60 percent of facilities that advertised memory, dementia, or cognitive care had not documented that they had, in fact, completed the training, staffing, or design changes required to be called a dementia special care facility.
The association's findings were similar to a smaller Globe review conducted in February.
A letter sent Friday to all nursing homes by the department states, "A facility which does not operate a dementia special care unit may not include a reference to dementia care or memory care in a list of provided services . . . even with a disclaimer that the facility does not operate a dementia special care unit."
The letter acknowledged that state regulators had previously advised nursing homes they would be allowed to include references to dementia care in their advertising — even if they had not completed the more stringent requirements — as long as they added the disclaimer.
The letter said nursing home advertising will still be allowed to include "dementia" in a list outlining the types of residents a facility admits, so long as it includes a disclaimer that it does not offer specialized care, and does not imply that it offers services specifically for residents with dementia.
"In line with our priority of ensuring safe care of residents, this guidance, in part, clarifies a recognized issue with how facilities may advertise dementia services," Scott Zoback, health department spokesman, said in a statement.
A spokeswoman for the state's nursing home trade association said the industry welcomed the state's directive.
"Our providers want to do the right thing, and this will provide them the guidance and clarity to make sure they are doing the right thing," said Helen Magliozzi, director of regulatory affairs at the Massachusetts Senior Care Association.
"This just shows that facilities were following the guidance they had been given previously by the Department of Public Health," Magliozzi added.
A state law, passed in 2012, required all of the state's 414 nursing homes to complete staff training in dementia care by last November. Training was required even at facilities that do not offer specialized dementia care, because more than half of nursing home residents are believed to have dementia.
Nursing homes that advertise dementia services face additional mandates that include the hiring of an activities director dedicated to the dementia unit to ensure meaningful activities for residents, an expanded common space room, and a fenced-in outdoor area.
The Alzheimer's Association spent years lobbying for the law, which was designed to close a loophole that had allowed nursing homes to advertise dementia care services without specific training for their workers, specialized activities for residents, or safety measures to prevent residents from wandering.
James Wessler, president of the Alzheimer's Association, said he is pleased with the action by state regulators.
"We like to see dementia special care units," Wessler said, "but we want to make sure they are providing the quality of care they should be providing."