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• Unions in New York are planning a series of aggressive actions, including mounting a drive to organize 50,000 home care workers. The actions come after a wave of corruption investigations swept away many of New York’s labor leaders, reported The New York Times. Now, a new group of union leaders is starting to make the city’s labor movement more vigorous and combative than it has been in a long time. This new aggressiveness, including a large labor rally scheduled for May 12, is expected to strain the contract negotiations for more than 250,000 city workers, including home healthcare workers.
• Arizona should improve its regulation of health agencies that provide skilled nursing and other services to patients in the home, according to a state audit released last week. In Tucson, AZ, reported The Arizona Daily Star, the state has licensed about 23 home health agencies, according to the state health department. The Auditor General’s Office found that licensing of home health agencies often falls short. In 1998, the health department renewed the state licenses of 43 agencies without first making sure they complied with state regulations, the audit found. Home care providers in Arizona say they are not surprised by the findings, saying the agencies are "understaffed, and they are behind schedule." Judith Clinco, president of Catalina Home Health, said as a result of inspection delays, "you might see unscrupulous agencies that are not functioning in compliance with the rules."
• Fifty registered nurses and support staff from the Brant County Community Care Access Centre (CCAC), Ontario Nurses Association Local 7, have been locked out by their former employer after negotiations for a collective agreement broke down. The registered nurses had voted 92% in favor of withdrawing their services. The employees of the CCAC have been without a collective agreement since August 31. The registered nurses and support staff coordinate the provision of homemaking, medical supplies, nursing care, and therapies. The registered nurses were placed in a legal position to withdraw services last Thursday. The outstanding issues are work hours and wages.
• In Colorado, home health advocates have described the creation of the interim payment system (IPS) as legislation with unintended consequences, reported The Gazette of Colorado Springs. The rules have cut payments to agencies by about 30%, according to Home Care Association of Colorado. It has forced law-abiding firms out of business. The association is leery to spend too much more time on a problem politicians probably won’t correct, the Gazette reported. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, agrees. "I don’t see much hope for further IPS reform this year," he said. "I think it’s time for Congress to start working together with (the Health Care Financing Administration) to ensure that PPS (prospective payment system) works."
• Indiana lawmakers are considering providing $18 million in new funding to help move people out of mental health hospitals and into home health programs. Half of the funding is included in the state’s two year budget.
• Tennessee Gov. Don Sundquist’s top health aides recommended last week that the state spend $2.8 million for meals and homemaker services to help people stay out of nursing homes, reported the Associated Press. The money, however, along with $500,000 for administration, would have to come out of the $11 million the governor recommended in his budget proposal to cover people eligible for Medicaid. Members of the Tennessee Long-Term Planning Council will send their plan to the governor, who will pass it to the state Legislature. If it passes, it could benefit as many as 3,000 people eligible for Medicaid.
• Wisconsin is noticing a serious shortage of healthcare workers in nursing homes and the home health industry. And it’s getting worse, said state officials. Society’s Assets, a home care provider in Racine, WI, turned away hundreds of clients last year because it couldn’t find enough employees. In many cases, it forced people to enter nursing homes. "Whatever the setting, dedicated healthcare workers are feeling undervalued these days," reported an article in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
• Fortis will offer long term care insurance policies to New York residents through its affiliate, First Fortis Life Insurance (Syracuse, NY). The policies are designed as "pool of money" benefit accounts from which expenses are paid for home health, nursing home, and alternative care services.
• A bill to increase California’s investment in quality home care services is working its way through the Legislature. The legislation would help raise wages, improve benefits, and provide training for workers, reducing the turnover rate. It is sponsored by Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) and was addressed last week in a hearing in Sacramento.
• The United Hospital Fund (New York) granted $1.15 million in grants to seven New York City hospitals last week to help people who care for relatives at home. Six of the hospitals received $175,000 each for their programs that provide information to family members who care for elderly people. The seventh hospital was given $100,000 to begin a web site for people who care for patients with traumatic brain injury, reported The New York Times.
• While Mississippi lawmakers prepare to wrap up the session, scheduled to adjourn on Easter, a bill that would put more money into home care programs for senior citizens still awaits action, reported the Associated Press. "If we’re going to sell ourselves as a retirement Mecca, we need to offer those senior citizens something more than a nursing home when the time comes," said Sen. Terry Burton (D-Newton). "It’s a dignity issue."