Governor Deval Patrick recently signed legislation, An Act relative to Special Care Units (SCU) in long-term care facilities, which establishes minimum care standards at dementia special care units and nursing homes. The legislation will provide dementia-specific training for direct-care workers, activity directors and supervisors in traditional nursing homes and special care units.
Prior to this enactment, there was a loophole in Massachusetts law which allowed nursing homes to advertise specialized Alzheimer’s and dementia care units even though their workers may not have had specialized training or therapeutic programs for such residents. Massachusetts was previously in a minority of states that did not have such requirements; a 2005 federal report noted that 44 states (excluding Massachusetts) at that time had requirements governing training, staffing and security for facilities that provided dementia care.
Pursuant to the legislation, the Department of Public Health will work with the nursing home industry and the Alzheimer’s Association to identify minimum safety and quality standards for dementia care in long-term facilities. The new regulations will also govern the physical design of such units so as to mitigate wandering and boost therapeutic value to residents.
Alzheimer’s affects more than 120,000 Massachusetts residents and 5.4 million nationally according to the Alzheimer’s Association. That number is expected to grow dramatically with the aging of baby boomers. It is estimated that more than half of residents in nursing homes suffer from dementia. Supported by the Alzheimer’s Association of Massachusetts, this newly enacted law should serve to better protect one of our most vulnerable populations.
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