Rep. Dank sets the stage for long-term care deliberations

OKLAHOMA CITY – I want to thank state Rep. Richard Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City, joining me in sponsoring a Nursing Homes Interim Study at the state Capitol.

It is an unfortunate truth that many Oklahomans have had no personal experience with placing a loved one in a nursing home or assisted living facility. They’ve never dealt with a relative with dementia or Alzheimers or who was confined to a wheelchair. To them these are theoretical issues, and frankly, like all societies everywhere, too many of us tend to forget the elderly and fail to honor and protect them.

A high percentage of my constituents are seniors. Let me suggest to those who don’t believe these issues matter, that seniors are as worthy of our respect as any group in this state.

We’ve spent a lot of time and money and effort in recent years making sure that foster children are well cared for. We have passed new laws to protect victims of domestic abuse. Our seniors deserve the same level of consideration.

The bottom line is this: A society that fails to honor and protect its senior citizens abdicates one of its fundamental responsibilities. Those folks in the nursing home today are the people who built this state. 

They deserve our respect and care.

I asked all of the agencies involved with senior issues to be part of proceedings held at the state Capitol On October 21. We need to put our heads together and do two things.

First, we need to determine where we are right now.

How much money from state and federal sources is going to care for the elderly?

Are those dollars being spent on direct care, or like many other government programs, are too many of them being eaten up with excess administrative costs?

Are there enough ombudsmen and family councils? If not, how do we expand them?

What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong? What makes a good nursing home? We know they are out there. What makes a bad one? We know they are out there, too.

Once we have determined where we are, we need to chart a course for the future. That includes rewarding those who are meeting standards. It also includes modernizing and updating our laws and regulations to assure that every senior, in every county and community, has access to care that meets or exceeds standards.

Let me stress one thing: There are many fine nursing home and assisted living facility operators in Oklahoma. Our goal should be to make their work easier while lifting those who don’t meet the same standards to a new level. This is not a punitive study. One thing I hope we can do is isolate the best practices from the best out there and make them universal.

Legislators have a great many concerns. But this is one concern that applies to every one of us, all 101 members of the House, all 48 senators. We all have seniors and nursing homes in our districts.

Many members have yet to confront the issue of how to care for a mother or father or grandmother or grandfather who is in need of expanded care. But I can tell you that every one of you will confront that someday.

I did. My mother spent her final seven years in assisted living and expanded nursing care. I was glad to find a good facility for her, but not everyone is that lucky. And I might add that not every family is as caring as we would hope when it comes time to deal with granny.

Simply put, we are the guardians of the elderly. The laws we craft and the regulations we impose are just as important as those laws and regulations we have applied to foster children, or on behalf of victims of domestic abuse. A government that fails to protect the most vulnerable among us is no government at all.

I don’t intend to demean the progress made so far. Our job here is not to reinvent the wheel. Just 15 years ago we went through a major scandal involving nursing home inspections here in Oklahoma, and we punished those responsible. I don’t believe we will uncover anything like that in this present study, but I also believe we need to take a hard look at where we are and where we need to go to make sure that every senior in every community is cared for with compassion and professionalism.

I don’t care where you are. If seniors in your community are not being cared for appropriately, you need to step up and be part of this process. And I can assure that you you’ll find some examples of sub-standard care as well.

Those seniors deserve a safe, comfortable, caring environment in their final years. And it goes without saying that they must be protected from abuse or intimidation.

So that is our job. I am not going to prejudge anything. This is an open hearing and we hope and expect to hear from everyone with a stake in this issue.

NOTE: This is edited from Rep.Dank’s formal remarks opening a state House Interim Study before the Long Term Care and Senior Services Committee on October 21.