Study: Older people don't get enough help (copy)

As our families age, we talk more about maintaining a quality of life while keeping our loved ones in their own home, saving money and preventing a move to a nursing home.

My family was one of the fortunate ones, having all my siblings living nearby in the Berkshires to help care for my mom and dad. This allowed us to have a plan in place for visiting nurses to address the needs of my parents in their own home. Our nurses had a customized plan for my diabetic father, but we learned that they could not provide the most important services, such as insulin injections, even though they were trained and licensed to do so. My siblings and I organized a schedule for us to administer the injection multiple times a day, even though we had never been trained. It is time for the commonwealth, which has always been a leader, to allow nurses to provide these basic services in assisted living, as neighboring states already do, so that older adults can receive the care they need from the nurses who see and care for them every day.

Assisted living residences offer the opportunity to engage in social interaction, maintain a sense of independence and provide loved ones with the peace of mind knowing that their family members are safe and cared for. While another benefit of assisted living is increased financial stability for residents, seniors residing in Massachusetts still must pay out of pocket to bring in outside providers to administer injections such as insulin, manage oxygen supply, give medication, apply ointment or handle wounds — simple health care procedures that quickly become costly.

This is why I filed An Act authorizing common sense health services in assisted living (S.2656) along with my friend and colleague Sen. Pat Jehlen, D-2nd Middlessex. The significant gap in services offered to seniors residing in assisted living facilities can easily be addressed by allowing registered nurses or licensed practical nurses already working in the residence to provide these basic procedures. This legislation would accomplish just that with regulatory oversight from the Executive Office of Elder Affairs and would give registered nurses and licensed practical nurses the support they need to provide these key services to the residents they care for.

Considering that the types of services that nurses working in assisted living are currently restricted from providing are commonplace, it seems logical that they should be able to help residents when the time arises. We know that these practitioners are trained and highly capable, so let’s give them the chance to answer the call when help is needed. The average monthly cost of assisted living in Massachusetts is already more than $1,000 over the national average, and it seems preposterous to make our seniors pay for everyday services or move to an expensive skilled nursing facility when they are already paying for the supports offered by assisted living communities.

We have a tremendous opportunity in front of us. Let’s make simple, everyday health care accessible to residents by allowing the professionals that already serve them to give them their insulin and care for their wounds. From the Berkshires to Boston and everywhere in between, this is something that makes a great deal of common sense.

State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli represents the 4th Berkshire District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives.