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Archive for Tuesday, July 6, 1999

LOCAL AGENCY SERVES AS ELDER-CARE WATCHDOG

July 6, 1999

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As the only group of its kind in the state, Kansas Advocates for Better Care has improved the quality of nursing home care.

Thirty years ago, a nurse who ignored the cries of a blind elderly woman under her care impelled Petey Cerf to advocacy.

Cerf said she heard the elderly woman call out that she could not breathe only to be disciplined by the nurse for yelling.

The next day Cerf read the obituary of the eldery woman, whom she had been reading to regularly in a Lawrence nursing home. Cerf was appalled, so she set out to change the system.

Today the Lawrence-based group that Cerf founded in 1975, Kansas Advocates for Better Care, is still fighting to ensure a standard of quality in the state's nursing homes and other long-term care centers.

Numerous laws regulating the industry passed as a result of the group's lobbying, according to Deanne Lenhart, executive director of the KABC. Over the years state agencies have come to view the KABC as an ally working toward the same goal, she said.

"We're still being a thorn in the side but not in the same way we used to," Lenhart said.

Like the KABC, the long-term care industry has changed since the KABC started as Kansans for the Improvement of Nursing Homes.

At that time nursing homes were the KABC's primary focus, but the growth of assisted living centers, in-home care, respite care and other types of services for the elderly has created new issues and problems.

The more active elderly people that lived in nursing homes in the 1970s are now in assisted care or other facilities, leaving the frail and ill in nursing homes.

Lenhart said this means the standards of care passed in the late 1970s and early 1980s are no longer sufficient.

"The whole issue only touches a small percent of the population, but if you are one of them, it touches you tremendously," said Lenhart, who has been with the group about a year.

KABC faces two constant challenges: The population they serve is in constant flux and the rest of the population doesn't want to talk about the issue, Lenhart said.

"The only people that care about (long-term care) are those that are forced into it," Lenhart said.

But for 24 years KABC has been committed to improving the quality of care and informing people about the standard of care available.

"They are exactly what their name says," said Don Brown, spokesman for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. "The state of the industry today is better because of them."

In the beginning, KABC may have acted more adversarial, forcing regulatory agencies to improve standards of care.

Now KABC is a regular part of the process with representatives serving on committees and working closely with the state agencies involved.

"We have the same goal: working toward better long-term care," said Matthew Hickam, director of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman program. "The more individuals concerned with care of the state's elderly, the better."

In addition to pursuing better regulations, KABC provides information about the state's nursing homes such as their histories of violations and helps people make informed decisions about nursing homes.

"We're kind of the Consumer Reports for nursing homes," Lenhart said.

Wilda Davison, constituency services director at the Kansas Department of Aging, said she frequently shares information with KABC and works with them.

"We're certainly interested in cooperating with anyone advocating for seniors," Davison said.

As the industry continues to change it appears there will continue to be a need for agencies such as KABC, especially as the baby boomer generation approaches retirement.

-- Josh Funk's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail is jfunk@ljworld.com

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