Organization Calls for More Staff, More Inspections of Oklahoma Nursing Homes during Off Hours

The Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature is calling upon state lawmakers to require more staff on duty during evening and night shifts at Oklahoma nursing homes.

The senior advocacy group is also asking the 2016 state Legislature to order the state Health Department to conduct more of its unannounced nursing home inspections during “off hours” — evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays.

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The Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature (OSHL) is an advocacy organization for our state’s senior adults. OSHL senators and representatives are elected by our state’s seniors to represent each of the 11 districts of the Oklahoma Area Agencies on Aging. More than 500,000 Oklahomans are 65 years old or older, constituting 13% of the state’s population.

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The OHSL met in Oklahoma City last Tuesday and Wednesday. It meets in September of odd-numbered years to develop proposed bills for the next session of the Oklahoma Legislature.

Last week’s OHSL voted to send a proposed bill to the Oklahoma Legislature which would require more staff on duty during evening and night shifts. That’s a reasonable proposal. Nursing home residents live in their facilities 24/7, which means evenings and night times make up two-thirds of their lives. Many senior adults have difficulty sleeping or have health problems that require around-the-clock attention.

Another OSHL proposed bill would require the state Health Department to conduct at least 25% of its nursing home inspections in the evenings, night time, weekends and holidays. That’s a sensible proposal which the state Legislature should adopt.

An inspection conducted during normal business hours is likely to find a nursing home at its best. More staff is on duty. The best employees are on duty, who have gravitated by seniority to the day shift. Administrators are present, motivating employees to be on their best behavior. Family members are more likely to visit, also motivating employees.

However, the purpose of an inspection is to make sure our nursing homes are always measuring up to minimum standards. If minimum standards are not being achieved in a nursing home, it most likely to be during the off hours. It only makes sense to require more inspections at those times.

I think it is a quite modest proposal to require only 25% of inspections during off hours. If it were up to me, the percentage would be higher.

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Our state lawmakers should turn both of these proposals into law during their 2016 legislative session. All of us should be grateful to the Oklahoma Silver Haired Legislature for being aggressive advocates on behalf of our seniors.

All of us will eventually take our turn being seniors. How we treat seniors today will largely determine how we will be treated tomorrow.