Elder Living

Understanding CMS Guidelines for Nursing Home Visitation

Revised guidance for nursing home visitation has been issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS). It is now possible to have visitation with nursing home residents for reasons other than urgent end-of-life scenarios and, in some instances, may include physical touch. Additionally, communal activities and dining are permissible as long as the social distancing rule of 6 feet of separation, and other precautions are observed. Encouraging outdoor visits is desirable as long as the weather permits. Indoor visits are permissible if no new cases were identified in the previous two weeks, and the facility adheres to the core principles of resident and staff testing, screening, proper hygiene, social distancing, and facility cleaning. 

The CMS memo contains “Core Principles of COVID-19 Infection Prevention” verbatim as follows:

  • Screening of all who enter the facility for signs and symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g., temperature checks, questions or observations about signs or symptoms), and denial of entry of those with signs or symptoms
  • Hand hygiene (use of alcohol-based hand rub is preferred) 
  • Face covering or mask (covering mouth and nose) 
  • Social distancing at least six feet between persons 
  • Instructional signage throughout the facility and proper visitor education on COVID19 signs and symptoms, infection control precautions, other applicable facility practices (e.g., use of face-covering or mask, specified entries, exits, and routes to designated areas, hand hygiene)
  • Cleaning and disinfecting high frequency touched surfaces in the facility often, and designated visitation areas after each visit 
  • Appropriate staff use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) 
  • Effective cohorting of residents (e.g., separate areas dedicated COVID-19 care)
  • Resident and staff testing conducted as required.

CMS acknowledges that the previous months of severe visitor restrictions to slow the spread of COVID-19 were at a high cost to nursing home residents’ overall wellbeing. The revision of visitor guidance compassionately addresses resident care needs beyond protection from the coronavirus. CMS Administrator Seema Verma states, “While we must remain steadfast in our fight to shield nursing home residents from this virus, it is becoming clear that prolonged isolation and separation from family is also taking a deadly toll on our aging loved ones.”

CMS is also making available Civil Monetary Penalty (CMP) funds to ensure greater and safer access to outdoor and indoor visits. The money can purchase tents for outdoor interaction and clear dividers such as plexiglass can create physical barriers, reducing the risk of transmission during in-person visits. Funding through CMP can also provide communication aids such as tablet devices and webcams that enable virtual visits. However, each facility has a limit of $3,000 to ensure a balance in distributing CMP funds.

Compassionate care situations now include more than the end-of-life scenarios and are also included in the CMS memo. Verbatim they include but are not limited to:

  • A resident, who was living with their family before recently being admitted to a nursing home, is struggling with the change in environment and lack of physical family support.
  • A resident who is grieving after a friend or family member recently passed away.
  • A resident who needs cueing and encouragement with eating or drinking, previously provided by family and/or caregiver(s), is experiencing weight loss or dehydration.
  • A resident, who used to talk and interact with others, is experiencing emotional distress, seldom speaking, or crying more frequently (when the resident had rarely cried in the past).

In addition to family members, compassionate care visits may now also include clergy or laypersons offering religious or spiritual support that meet the resident’s needs. Personal contact is permissible during these and family visits but only when following all appropriate infection prevention guidance. This more humanized approach to nursing home care encourages facility staff to work with residents, families, caregivers, and resident representatives to identify those in need of in-person compassionate care visitation. Exceptions to compassionate visits occur when facilities have experienced COVID-19 infections within the past two weeks or when a county is experiencing a high positivity COVID-19 rate. In the absence of a reasonable safety or clinical cause, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid make clear that failure of nursing homes to facilitate in-person visitations can be cause for citations and other penalties as CMS deems appropriate.

CMS understands that nursing home residents derive physical, emotional, and spiritual value and support through family and friend visitations, especially in trying times. No one should be made to endure this pandemic alone, least of all the most vulnerable among us. This new CMS nursing home visitation guidance is designed to help American seniors remain happier, stronger, and more resilient in the face of adversity through the personal support of those who love them most.

If you have a loved one in a nursing home, check with the facility to see how or whether their visitation guidelines have changed. It may take time for local facilities to consider these new guidelines and make changes that are consistent with the recommendations from CMS.

We would be happy to discuss any questions you have, including how to choose appropriate long term care and how to pay for it. We can recommend legal ways to help ease the cost of long-term care and protect your savings and home. Please contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700 to learn more about your legal options.

Elder Law

Debunked Myths of Long-term Care

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, someone turning age 65 today will have a 70 percent chance of requiring some long-term care (LTC) service and support during the remainder of their life. In the case of women, the typical LTC need will last about 3.7 years compared to men who will need about 2.2 years of care. While approximately one-third of today’s 65-year-olds may not ever need long-term care 20 percent of those who do will require it for more than five years.

The statistics are clear; older Americans should be carrying a long-term care insurance policy to protect their future but only about 7.2 million Americans 65 years or older currently own a traditional long term care policy, and this number has held steady for the last seven years. While LTC insurance is overall considered expensive and finding the right plan for you in the myriad of insurance products available can be confusing and vary from state to state. According to A Place for Mom, there are seven myths about long term care that anyone age 50 or more should understand.

One myth is that a person has to get rid of all of their assets to receive Medicaid which will qualify them for federally available LTC benefits. In general, the rule is a person is not allowed to keep more than $2,000 in countable assets to be eligible for Medicaid. Exemptions in some states can include your home (if a spouse, minor or disabled child still lives there), assets that cannot be converted to cash, and burial plots or spaces. Also, personal property, one vehicle, and prepaid funerals generally qualify as exemptions. The Community Spouse Resource Allowance rules permit the non-applicant spouse to keep a portion of the couple’s countable assets to prevent them from becoming destitute. Before making any attempt to spend down assets to qualify for Medicaid speak to an elder law attorney as the federal five year “lookback” rules have penalties and exceptions.

No, Medicare will not pay for long term care expenses except in the most specific and narrow of circumstances. Medicare will cover skilled in-home care from a nurse, occupational therapist, physical therapist, speech therapist or social worker for up to 21 days if ordered by a physician. In the case of a skilled nursing facility, Medicare pays for the first 20 days with no co-pays but if the stay is between 21 to 100 days, Medicare only pays a portion, and the beneficiary must pay the balance. 

Another myth is that a person thinks they are too young to think about long term care insurance let alone the need to pay for it. The truth is that even under the age of 65 if the person has a chronic illness like diabetes or high blood pressure or in the event of an accident, long term in-home or residential care services may be needed. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services on average, about 8 percent of people age 40 to 50 have a disability that may require long term care services.

Relying on the hope that family will take care of a long term care need is often a myth. While many older Americans are successfully aging in place, in part due to the benefits of technology, unpaid family member caregivers and community organizations are typically not willing and available for long term, intensive caregiving. A family discussion is needed if there is an expectation that a family member is willing and able to take on a long term caregiver role. While many family members are eager to provide oversight through the use of technology, the intensive requirements of long term care are usually more than they are willing to accept. 

Most health insurance policies will not cover long term care expenses to any meaningful degree. Some plans will have minimal home care and skilled nursing benefits; however the nature of the plan is short term and is intended to produce recovery and rehabilitation while long term care is generally custodial in nature for the safety, maintenance and well being of a person with a chronic condition. Even some long term care insurance policies will not cover all long term care expenses. There are elimination periods which function as a deductible or after a policy benefit has been exhausted. Specific coverage in long term care varies widely from policy to policy.

Finally, many aging Americans feel that their retirement savings will cover the costs of their long term care. The website A Place for Mom has a financial calculator to help individuals understand their specific needs to cover long-term care costs. Currently, the average US national median long term health care cost is about $50,000 for a home health aide which is above and beyond all other living costs. In many situations, in particular with residential care, costs can run hundreds of thousands of dollars over a few short years. Unless a person is independently wealthy, most retirement savings will be spent down very quickly.

Chances are you will need long term care during your lifetime. Being educated about what is best suited to meet your personal financial and health background needs is a significant first step. Next, understand what legal options are available to help you in the event you need significant long term care and may run out of money trying to pay for it. We are here to help. Contact our office today and schedule an appointment to discuss how we can help you with your planning. Please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Elder Living

Alternative Views on Facility Living with Alzheimer’s Patients

As the aging population rises, Alzheimer’s Disease is also on the rise for elderly moving into nursing home facilities. The National Institute of Health (NIH) Library of Medicine reports the most common form of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease, accounting for approximately two-thirds of all diagnosed cases of dementia. Alzheimer’s is also one of the most expensive diseases to treat and often results in financial strain on families trying to find and pay for the best care. In the past, care in facilities often resulted in Alzheimer’s patients being separated from others. However, as you’ll read below, facilities are now exploring better ways to treat Alzheimer’s patients while living in a facility.

Medical breakthroughs that increase our understanding of how to best treat and introduce disease modification therapies for people living with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases provides future hope. However, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are already more than 5.8 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease. These individuals may not live long enough to benefit from new therapy discoveries since new treatments must undergo rigorous testing and clinical trial phases. Current projections indicate that unless some of these medical breakthroughs have practical applications very soon, more than 14 million Americans will be clinically diagnosed to be living with Alzheimer’s by 2050, with many more struggling in the long-preclinical phase of the disease.

As senior living facilities become more saturated with dementia patients in all stages of progression, there is a shift underway towards non-segregated memory care living. Alzheimer’s patient reintegration into general senior living residence status is shifting dementia care into a human-centric model. It provides insights and lessons into eldercare facility living, its providers and staff, family members of residents, and all of the patients, not just memory care patients. This human-based approach is a kinder, more medically practical and appropriate, and in the long term, a more cost-effective method for facility residents who have dementia.

Before there were outcome-based clinical research findings to support the segregating of dementia patients care facilities began creating stand-alone memory care units, floors, and facilities.  Families knew their loved ones were safely locked away in a highly monitored unit, and staff could focus their training and efforts in a more specified range of care. Because this isolation model became overwhelmingly profitable for business operators, it became the de facto standard of memory care operation. Profits were trumping the human condition. At the outset, it seemed rational enough to put like-patients together, yet because everyone’s memory disease progression is unique, the concept was flawed. Living circumstances for humans is an emotional experience, and the sad outcome for assembled memory care patients was faster disease progression in their isolated, shrinking worlds. This accelerated mental decline was partially due to the lack of broader social and emotional connection with non-dementia residents. It seems integrating patients of all types and generations enriches and expands what residents can do, creating a diverse human model focusing on the positive aspects of life and personal interaction.

Some of the conditions all aging adults share, not just those living with dementia, include difficulty hearing and seeing, finding mental focus more demanding, becoming more concerned about being in large crowds, and noises that increase their stress levels. For a community of residents, no matter what the patient illness, facilities can create an atmosphere that addresses these common concerns. These shared needs include not only medical care but activities that are available in a 24-hour cycle and the encouragement of socialization in smaller, quieter circles. Interactions among residents in this calming style of environment tend to create friendships organically and provide enriching connections among patients irrespective of their illness type. The overall common conditions of aging require sameness in approach, no matter how varied the residents’ medical conditions are.

Technology that allows for digital wrist monitoring of patient location and vital signs permits ease of monitoring residents, particularly as they wander their living space.  Even the proper lighting, carpeting, and circular hallway architecture reassure residents’ feelings of safety, comfort, and familiarity, which appeals to all, regardless of diagnosis. When an entire senior living facility is dementia friendly, and all staff is trained in memory illness and care, every employee can add value to a resident’s enjoyment of life from the medical professionals to the social workers to the landscapers.

A diagnosis of Alzheimer’s can strike fear and worry in America’s aging population because of the emotional, physical, and financial upheaval associated with it. An older person might recognize the onset of some memory problems and become terrified, thinking about Alzheimer’s and the possibility of being relocated from their home and community to a dementia unit. There is a sense of dread that you may never feel seen, heard, and loved again by other people. Interpersonal relationships and connectedness are a hallmark of the aging communities in America. AARP reports large percentages of technology use in older Americans is related to interpersonal connections like email, viewing photos of family and friends, and using social media and the internet. Even in digital spaces and experiences, elderly community residents are looking to create personal networks, connecting to the world at large. The human spirit inclines to be expansive.

Appropriate social and physical environments play a significant role in healthy aging. Compartmentalizing memory care patients into homogeneous units will increase their memory decline, isolate their human connection, and spiral the patient into an ever-shrinking world of interaction, often making them non-verbal. Alzheimer’s patients who experience higher levels of social integration respond conversely, expanding their horizons as they experience and feel the extension of human love and support. There is no one set of symptoms for Alzheimer’s patients, and all patients are on their own trajectory of the disease. Mistakenly putting them together in a one size fits all approach of care has been a disservice to their health and well being and to the future care of others who will become afflicted with Alzheimer’s. The memory care model is shifting for the better and not a moment too soon.

We help families who have a loved one with dementia. We explore possible sources to help pay for care, like Medicaid, and we make sure our client’s wishes are stated in properly drafted legal documents. If you have a loved one with dementia, give us a call and let’s work on a plan to ensure your loved one has the best care possible, and their home and savings are protected. If you have questions, please do not hesitate to contact our Reno office by calling us at (775) 853-5700.

Uncategorized

Giving Gifts While on Medicaid Can Be Risky

Mabel’s children were concerned that Mabel would need long-term nursing-home care in the near future. It was the holidays, and Mabel always got a lot of joy out of generosity. But her children had heard that people in Mabel’s circumstances should not give gifts.

The concern is real. For Medicaid to cover the huge expense of nursing-home care, Mabel would have to show that she owned nothing more than around $2,000. And she must also show that she had not given away money or assets over the prior five years (2.5 years in California). That Medicaid rule – the “look-back period” or the “transfer penalty” – would charge Mabel dearly for her generosity. Depending on the size and number of gifts, the penalty could be substantial.

Many wrongly think that there is no penalty for gifts of up to around $15,000 annually. That misunderstanding confuses tax law with Medicaid law (and it also misstates tax law, but that’s another subject). The Medicaid rules are entirely different from the tax rules. In the Medicaid context, gifts of any amount that are given during the look-back period can be penalized.

There are exceptions. These include gifts to spouses and siblings under certain circumstances, disabled children, and children who are caregivers and who live at home with the elder for a span of time. But overall, gifts and Medicaid do not go together. The Medicaid rules are complicated and the consequences for mistakes can be very costly. There are a number of options to protect assets and still qualify for benefits, but these options must be weighed with great care. This is why it’s best to consult attorneys who, like us, are qualified by experience and expertise in Medicaid law.

There is one harmless deception Mabel’s children might consider, to keep Mabel happy and still satisfy the Medicaid rules. The children might help Mabel fill out checks for all the gifts she’d like to give, together with a greeting card for each gift. Everybody could thank Mabel, tear up the check later, and tell her what they “bought” with that amount. It may be that that little device would be worth it, so Mabel could enjoy the holidays too.

Otherwise, the sooner you consult a qualified elder law attorney, the more other options may be available. If we can be of assistance, please don’t hesitate to reach out for a consultation.