In an unusual gathering in D.C. Council chambers yesterday, District officials asked the city's senior citizens and their representatives to tell them about their problems -- and what was heard repeatedly were complaints about Washington's nursing homes.
The complaints included a shortage of nursing home beds, dirty facilities and inadequate staffing levels.
M. Anne Hart, the city's long-term care ombudsman, said some of the problems with nursing homes could be cured with the issuance of a new set of regulations that "have been stuck on someone's desk in the Department of Human Services for 25 months."
Hart said that regulations for the Health Care and Community Residence Facility, Hospice and Home Care Licensure Act of 1983 would update and improve how the city's nursing homes are operated.
"What does it take to realize the implementation of this law? Until the new rules are released, we are forced to rely on regulations that were written 13 years ago," she said.
M. Jerome Woods, acting director of the Department of Human Services, told the council that his staff is working to finish the regulations as quickly as it can. Department staff members attribute the long delay to the cumbersome process imposed by the 1983 law, which required the appointment of a task force and task force approval of each department proposal.
D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7), chairman of the Committee on Human Services, promised to consider these and other recommendations of an estimated 20 witnesses at the committee's hearing on issues affecting senior citizens. The hearing will continue at 10 a.m. today.
Crawford also said he personally will look into the concerns raised by D.C. Village nursing home resident Saundra Baugh, whose testimony was among the most dramatic.
Baugh, who was unable to appear because of illness, asked that her comments be read aloud by Elsie Shamwell, a member of the staff of Legal Counsel for the Elderly. Baugh, the president of the D.C. Coalition of Nursing Home Residents, said quick implementation of new nursing home regulations would help residents in many ways.
"Just last weekend a resident died, but she wasn't moved until two hours after the doctor was there and he wasn't there until she was dead for three hours," Baugh said. "That means the rest of us, including her three roommates, had to live with her dead body for five hours."
Sue Brown, the Department of Human Services administrator responsible for D.C. Village, said the nursing home's physical plant in Southwest Washington is old and that repairs to its leaky roof are scheduled. Brown also said the home's staff works hard to "provide a safe and comfortable environment" for residents and that when one of the residents dies, the body is removed as quickly as possible.
Crawford's hearing is one of several events under way in Washington this week that reflect a growing awareness of the nation's aging population. They include: The Gerontological Society of America, the largest professional organization of its kind, opened its 40th annual meeting, with about 3,500 specialists in aging gathered for seminars, speeches and discussions about such issues as abuse of the elderly, ethics in health care and employment opportunities for the elderly.
National Hispanic Council on Aging, an advocacy group, began its annual conference to further the social, economic and political well-being of the Hispanic elderly.
National Caucus and Center on Black Aged Inc., another advocacy group based in Washington, plans to honor six outstanding blacks tomorrow at the annual Living Legacy Awards Banquet. The six selected from a list of more than 100 include an Alexandria woman, Annie Beatrice Bailey Rose, 93, who has been a community and political activist for more than 79 years.
Greater Washington Board of Trade will have a seminar today for employers on "Managing the Aging Work Force," with a panel discussion on how to recruit and retain older workers. Another part of the program will deal with retirement and age discrimination.
Also yesterday, Prince George's County Executive Parris Glendening released a study of the needs of the county's elderly residents, showing that most lead "active, satisfying and rewarding lives," but as many as 42 percent "could benefit significantly from additional assistance and about 2 percent are in dire need of help."