SEIU Healthcare hails DOJ report calling out Missouri’s illegal use of nursing homes to house mentally ill patients

SEIU HEALTHCARE MISSOURI is hailing a recent report by the U.S. Department of Justice that found Missouri is violating federal disability law by unnecessarily institutionalizing thousands of adults with mental illness in nursing homes. “Our members… have consistently spoken out on behalf of this population and called for the additional training and adequate staffing needed to both provide the care that these care recipients deserve and to protect other residents and staff,” Lenny Jones, vice president of SEIU Healthcare Missouri, said in a statement. – Getty Images photo

By TIM ROWDEN
Editor-in-Chief

Missouri is violating federal disability law by unnecessarily institutionalizing thousands of adults with mental illness in nursing homes, according to a scathing U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) report, first reported by the Missouri Independent.

The report, published June 18, is based on a year-and-a-half investigation and determined those suffering with mental illness are “subjected to unnecessary stays in nursing facilities, generally because of a series of systemic failures by the state.”

For years Missouri has placed a higher portion of adults with mental health disabilities in nursing facilities than “all but a few states,” according to the report.

As of March 2023, there were 3,289 adults with mental health disabilities, excluding those with Alzheimer and dementia, who had spent at least 100 days in Missouri’s nursing homes.

SEIU HEALTHCARE
SEIU Healthcare Missouri Vice President Lenny Jones hailed the DOJ’s determination that Missouri’s practice of housing thousands of adults suffering from mental illness in nursing facilities — often against their will — is not only needless and harmful to these individuals, but in violation of federal disability law.

“Our members, including former workers at Northview Village, which the Department of Justice called out for its high percentage of mentally ill residents, have consistently spoken out on behalf of this population and called for the additional training and adequate staffing needed to both provide the care that these care recipients deserve and to protect other residents and staff,” Jones said in a statement.

Northview Village closed without notice in December scattering 175 residents to other care centers across the region, including one who was found wandering on the street days later.

AT RISK
Tosha Thomas, a certified nursing assistant, said she has experienced firsthand the suffering caused by Missouri’s placement of adults with mental illnesses in nursing homes, and is glad the Justice Department has taken a stand in favor of these vulnerable individuals.

“In my 27 years working in nursing homes, I’ve had the challenge of attempting to provide residents with mental health crises the care they need. Not only does it fail workers — who are already short-staffed and underpaid — but it puts both elderly residents and individuals with mental illness at risk. Missourians in need of mental health services deserve quality, specialized care, and nursing homes are not equipped to provide it,” Thomas said.

When you have mentally ill individuals with high needs — who can become agitated and violent — on the same floor as vulnerable older residents, you’re not going to get a positive outcome. Not only are the other residents placed at high risk, as are the workers, but violent and potentially self-harming individuals are not getting what they need and their lives are at risk as well,” she said.

CALLING ON STATE TO TAKE ACTION
In the union’s statement, Jones went on to say “SEIU Healthcare agrees with the DOJ that many nursing home residents suffering from mental illness would be better served via community-based mental health services rather than warehoused in facilities — often against their will — that are unequipped and/or unwilling to provide appropriate mental health care.

“For those that truly need institutional care, we ask that the DOJ compel the state of Missouri to create minimum staffing and training requirements for any nursing facility that continues to house persons suffering from serious mental illness to ensure the safety of residents and care workers alike.”

Many of the findings the DOJ made in its report are reflected in the report by the St. Louis Board of Aldermen’s Special Committee on Long-Term Care Facilities, headed by Alderman Rasheen Aldridge.

 


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