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June 19, 2023

Long-term care bill emerges from elder affairs

A large brick building with columns and a large gold dome on top sits behind a gate with steps leading up to it. Photo | Flickr | Ajay Suresh The Massachusetts State House

A wide-reaching long-term care reform bill is on the move in the Legislature, and it could soon emerge in the House after Speaker Ron Mariano named it one of his early priorities for the session.

The Elder Affairs Committee on Thursday redrafted and favorably reported legislation filed by its chairs, Rep. Thomas Stanley and Sen. Patricia Jehlen, that takes aim at both oversight gaps exposed during the COVID-19 pandemic and at a staffing crisis putting strain on many facilities.

The bill (H 3929) would equip the Department of Public Health with "new tools to monitor and take punitive action on facilities," a committee spokesperson said, such as by strengthening the department's ability to suspend nursing home licenses, awarding it the power to examine management companies during suitability reviews, and allowing review of civil and criminal histories of nursing home license applicants.

Facilities would be required to craft infection control and outbreak response plans, and the statute of limitations for abuse charges would double from two years to four years under the bill, according to a committee summary.

It also moves to create a tuition reimbursement program for certified nursing assistants, part of an effort to roll out new worker incentives and supports as facilities across Massachusetts struggle to fill open positions.

"The career ladder and loan repayment provisions in the bill for direct care staff will help address the workforce crisis in nursing homes," Stanley said in a statement. "The licensure and suitability reforms will ensure owners and operators never compromise on providing high-quality care to their residents."
A committee aide said the bill moves now to the Health Care Financing Committee. Sixteen members of the committee voted in favor of advancing the legislation, while one lawmakers -- who an aide did not identify -- declined to take an up-or-down position.

Industry leaders and senior advocates have been warning for years about issues in long-term care facilities that put critical services out of reach for many older adults, and the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic thrust the problems further into the spotlight.

Mariano said in February that the Stanley-Jehlen bill would be one of his first goals for the two-year term. Legislative leaders have brought few issues forward for votes other than the annual budget and standalone tax relief plans, and the House has not met in a formal session for nearly two months.

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