Governor Dannel P. Malloy today joined Connecticut Department on Aging Commissioner Edith Prague, state Long-Term Care Ombudsman Nancy Shaffer, Connecticut Legislative Commission on Aging Executive Director Julia Evans Starr, aging issue advocates and state and local lawmakers for the ceremonial signing of legislation (Public Act 13-70) that requires nursing home administrators to provide their staff with training on how to identify and respond to patients' fear of retaliation. This is in addition to existing law which requires administrators to ensure all nursing home staff receive, from a trainer familiar with the home's patient population, annual in-service training in an area specific to the patients' needs.
"Most of these supportive living facilities provide excellent long-term care and are staffed with compassionate, skilled professionals who, along with residents, will benefit from the training required by this legislation," said Governor Malloy. "Reprisal against residents for reporting mistreatment can either be obvious or subtle -- that's why we need to ensure the dedicated and hardworking attendants at nursing homes around the state have the best possible training to identify and respond to all cases of retaliation. Considering Connecticut has one of the largest aging populations and highest rates of seniors in nursing homes, protecting the rights of elderly residents in supportive living is a priority for this state."
The new law requires the state long-term care ombudsman to create and periodically update a training manual that provides nursing home administrators guidance on structuring and implementing the new training requirement on patients' fear of retaliation. The act also mandates that the training nursing home staff receives must specifically discuss:
Patients' rights to file complaints and voice grievances;
Examples of what constitutes or may be perceived as employee retaliation against patients; and
Ways to prevent and alleviate patients' fear of such retaliation.
The Nursing Home Reform Law is a piece of landmark legislation that set the federal standards for nursing home care. This legislation is the foundation of today's residents' rights and supports the philosophy that individuals do not give up their constitutional rights because their address has changed from a private residence to that of the skilled nursing facility. The legislation not only outlines the rights of consumers of long-term care services, but also outlines the responsibilities of both providers and the government to provide quality care and proper oversight to ensure that quality care and services are provided. Connecticut General Statute 19a-550 codifies these rights for residents of long term care facilities. The Nursing Home Reform Law and Connecticut General Statutes outline that residents have the right to:
Vote in state and federal elections;
Daily delivery of unopened mail;
Control the use of their personal funds;
Receive (or not receive) visitors of their choice;
Be a part of their medical care decision-making;
Individualized care plans;
Organize and participate in resident groups; and
The right to view state and federal inspection reports.
Importantly, both federal and state residents' rights laws also protect residents' right to be free of the fear of reprisal when exercising their rights.
In 2005, a courageous Connecticut nursing home resident first publicly voiced her concerns about retaliation and, in same year, residents discussed that fear of retaliation holds them back from exercising their right to voice their concerns at the annual Long Term Care Ombudsman VOICES Forum. Since that time, the Long Term Care Ombudsman Program has dedicated its work to better understanding fear of retaliation and promoting dialogue, awareness and education for both residents and staff throughout the state.
During the course of its study, the Ombudsman Program learned that sometimes staff does not recognize that their actions and behavior are perceived as retaliation by the residents and heard often from staff that they wanted training to better understand the issue. Connecticut leads the country as the first state to recognize and respond to the need for education and training about fear of retaliation in nursing homes.
"If residents have legitimately complained while in the nursing home, this is the kind of bill they hope for, so they can be assured of no retaliation from staff or administrators," said Commissioner Prague.
Research by the University of Connecticut Health Center explored the notion of fear of retaliation, focusing on what emotions a care recipient experiences with regard to this fear. This study concluded that fear of retaliation is a reality for individuals across many supportive housing settings. In fact, the research indicates that the perception that retaliation may happen is as strong and can provoke as much fear for a person as the experience of retaliation itself.
Long-Term Care Ombudsman Nancy Shaffer is appreciative of the support of Governor Malloy, Commissioner Prague, and the General Assembly, including Representative Serra, Senator Ayala and Senator Kelley.
"Connecticut is at the forefront of the issue of fear of retaliation for residents and can be very proud of its commitment to improve the quality of lives for all its citizens, no matter their place of residence," said Shaffer.
As a result of raising the phenomena of fear of retaliation to the public specter, studying and better understanding what it means for residents, the Ombudsman Program developed a video and a curriculum for nursing home residents, families and staff. Currently across the country, many State Long Term Care Ombudsman Programs now use Connecticut's curriculum and instructional video for their own training purposes.